When I review a book, I check the publisher’s description online and on the back cover to make sure I don’t inadvertently divulge plot twists and other surprises that readers won’t know when they start reading. I was a bit surprised to find a blurb on Pascal Marco’s Identity: Lost from an author claiming that this “electrifying debut puts him firmly in the hunt to succeed John Grisham.” Really?
By the time I finished reading this intricate and heartbreaking legal thriller, I decided that blurb might be right.
After twelve-year-old James Overstreet witnesses a 1975 murder in a lakefront Chicago park in a dangerous neighborhood, his life changes dramatically because police and prosecutors botch the trial. James identifies the black gang members who killed the 85-year-old white man in Burnham Park. But once the judge says, “I have no choice but to find the defendants not guilty of murder,” James and his family know their lives are at risk if they ever go home again.
Readers know going into this book that thirty years later James Overstreet will no longer be James Overstreet, but a man named Stan Kobe who has gone to law school, learned his craft well, and become a successful prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona. Savvy readers will guess that even though James has been reincarnated as Stan 1,400 miles away from the scene of the crime, one way or another, “Ice Pick” and the Oakwood Rangers will cross his path again.
Crime shows on TV often imply that once a person goes into the Witness Protection Program, life is safe and good. Pascal Marco does a wonderful job of counteracting that myth. When James becomes Stan, nobody can know. All ties to his past, and his parents’ past are cut. Even if Stan is good at pretending he didn’t come from Chicago and knows little or nothing about the town, there are a hundred ways a chance statement or a chance meeting will bring the Oakwood Rangers to his front door. While James/Stan might be a bit more paranoid about such things than most, his fears are not without cause.
Marco’s plot is complex, for any future encounters between the young man who was torn away from his favorite lakefront park and plunked down in the Southwest must be handled carefully. If not, the novel would appear to rest on a string of unlikely coincidences. While the novel slows down a little while James is going to law school and turning into Maricopa County’s “most ruthless prosecutor,” Identity: Lost moves forward at flank speed through a labyrinth of thrills and chills en route to a surprising and satisfying ending.
Electrifying is a reasonable superlative for this novel. Marco, a native Chicagoan and current Arizona resident, uses his streetwise knowledge of both locations to great advantage in bringing this story to life. The characters are richly and realistically created from James/Stan to Chicago detectives “Stick” and “Timbo” to Ice Pick and his Rangers to Manny Fleischman (the victim) who once played for James/Stan’s beloved White Sox. Identity: Lost is a well-told tale with a fine mix of courtroom, Chicagoland and baseball ambiance and many dangerous moments.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four novels, including the 2011 contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.”