This is a book review of Identical by Scott Turow. Be warned, spoilers inside.

I found a copy of Scott Turow’s Identical on my bookshelf, probably donated by my aunt. I needed something to read for a long-haul flight so along it came without much thought. And now here I am wondering why I read it all the way through. Usually, I’d simply give up on dry reads, but somehow, this mystery hooked me. I guess I wanted to see where the plot went and to confirm if any of my suspicions were true. I also needed some closure on the main characters’ fates, even if I had to force myself to turn the pages to do so.

What is it about?

In short, it’s a modern-day Greek tragedy mashed up with a murder mystery. But only the families are Greek; the story is (mostly) set in America. The plot follows twins Paul and Cass Gianis. It starts just as Cass is finishing a 25-year jail term for murder while, at the same time, Paul is looking more than likely to be voted in as the mayor of Kindle. Well, that is until Hal Kronon, tycoon billionaire and brother of Cass’s murder victim and then-girlfriend, Dita Kronon, starts kicking up a fuss. He publicly questions Paul’s innocence in Dita’s murder, launching a vicious smear campaign against Paul. Hal hires P.I. Tim Brodie to work alongside his head of security, Evon Miller, to dig up whatever dirt they can find and hopefully prove Paul was somehow involved. Enter family rivalry, long-held grudges and blurred lines of twin relationships.

Greek mythology

Somehow, in those painstaking 414 pages, in which it only really starts to get good around page 245, Turow manages to fit in some serious links to Greek tragedy. The plot is loosely inspired by the ancient Greek myth of the twins Castor and Pollux and borrows many a theme from the genre. Unrequited love, devotion to family, heroism, fate vs free will, unintentional and intentional incest and so on. As such, some of what happens in the story feels quite familiar. But I think that’s a good thing. I felt like I knew the characters and could better understand them through the repeated pattern of events. This is part of the reason I kept on reading, even though I was finding it increasingly tedious.

The theme of love

In Greek myths, love is a constant theme. Mortals and Gods alike fall in and out love all the time and are often driven to extremes by it. Indeed, for the Ancient Greeks, love was visceral, impulsive, timeless and boundless. It was also dangerous, often leading to tragedy. And how dangerous it would prove to be for the rival families in Identity.

Cass and Dita

First, there was the love, or better put, infatuation, of Cass and Dita. Cass was head over heels for Dita while Dita was just playing him along. It was all a game to Dita and she found it highly entertaining to keep Cass around just to upset everyone else. While Cass was busy planning his proposal, despite his family’s reservations about the relationship, Dita was laughing behind his back and planning her next big move. Now, in Greek mythology, lovers often encounter tragedy, whether it’s because they betray one another or because it’s a selfish love. This is especially true if the relationship is incestuous (think Oedipus).

Although the couple didn’t know they were half- brother and sister, there was enough wrong with their love regardless for it to end in death. Dita received the ultimate punishment for her self-centered, careless approach to love with her murder. Cass, on the other hand, was also forced to pay penance with his false accusation and subsequent 25-year imprisonment. From the perspective of Greek mythology, this is only to be expected, especially because both were beautiful people, and beauty attracts disaster without question.

Zeus and Dita

As the book comes to a close, we learn of another love: the passion Zeus held for his only daughter and only legitimate child, Dita. And it’s not good. Turow explains in his narrative that Zeus was so enamoured by his daughter and so in love, but he had no idea how to express this intense emotion and it welled up in him to a point that he couldn’t control. In the end, he went into her room one night and raped her. Wow. That is one of the heaviest plot twists I’ve ever come across and one of the most problematic.

In Greek mythology, rape is a common theme and a terrible act often committed by the god Zeus. But, from what I’ve explored of the genre, it was never excused as Turow did. He explained Dita’s rape as a confused, misguided or mismanaged sense of fatherly devotion by Zeus. However, the god Zeus raped because he was almighty and had no respect. So, when trying to understand Zeus’ motives in Identical, I found it problematic that Turow could weave this reasoning into his story. How did Turow even come up with the concept of rape because of overzealous fatherly love? I couldn’t help but feel duped into reading some kind of excuse for misogynist male behaviour. I think this was the point where I knew I had truly wasted my time with this book.

Twins as a theme

I have to say, from the very get-go, I was not that into the story. The main premises was based on the fact that Paul and Cass are twins, but to me, that’s quite clichéd. Authors love to portray the relationships between twins as something very special, almost mystical. Having known twins, I get that they have a unique bond, which to all us single born babies may be quite intriguing. But all these authors out there writing fiction about such unusually interesting individuals, all of whom have something outrageously unique about them, gets tiresome. I understand that Turow’s plot wouldn’t have worked without two people who look identical, but it’s such an overdone theme that I just couldn’t appreciate it on the level I think he was aiming for, considering his previous works.  

My recommendation

All in all, I can’t say this was a bad book. After all, I did finish it. There were elements of intrigue, the characters were meticulously developed and most of the plot twists were intricately weaved and cleverly delivered. However, the themes were just a little too clichéd, some of the reasoning was weak to the point of being problematic and the backstories perhaps too in-depth, making the build-up to the exciting parts quite long-winded. That said, the writing was good enough to keep me reading all the way to the final page. I just wish that I didn’t feel like I’d waste my time in doing so.

2/5 stars … but I wish it was more

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