Let it be known up front that there are not a lot of laughs in Andrew Klavan’s latest offering. It’s not that Klavan is incapable of humor. He’s a prolific and multifaceted author who can write across genres, demographic audiences and media, having penned thriller, suspense and supernatural novels for mainstream readers, an adventure series for young adult Christians, and screenplays for films such as the darkly humorous A Shock to the System.
THE IDENTITY MAN does not neatly fit into a genre classification. It possesses elements of a political thriller, a crime novel, and a supernatural work. Interestingly enough, it also can very easily be considered an inspirational novel, though some of the language and situations may be offensive to some people of faith. When all is said and done, however, it is at heart a parable of and for our age, a snapshot taken through a dark lens of what is taking place in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our country.
The book’s narration is divided between two stories. The primary one concerns John Shannon, a two-bit criminal whose penchant for committing small-time, non-violent crimes is balanced by an uncanny skill for carpentry and wood-carving. Shannon finds himself on the run following his reluctant participation in a burglary that goes horribly wrong. After being kidnapped and given a new identity by a mysterious benefactor, Shannon travels to a new city that is slowly attempting to recover from a devastating flood. While the disaster that has befallen the metropolis puts one immediately in the mind of New Orleans, there are elements of Washington, D.C. as well, or, for that matter, Anytown, USA a week after a holocaust. Lawlessness runs rampant; the saying “better a gun in the hand than a cop on the phone” takes on a new and terrible relevance.
One of those cops is Lt. Brick Ramsey, who has traded virtue for vice and has become a tool of the power structure, which has found it politically expedient to keep the populace dependent upon government largesse. Shannon quickly finds work as a carpenter, and by circumstance is doing extra work for a family whose pride in self-reliance has placed them on the road to faster recovery and in better circumstances than their less-industrious neighbors. Shannon, however, all too soon attracts the attention of Ramsey, whose paranoia demonstrates truth to the old saying that one cannot think straight when one’s mind is crooked.
When Ramsey moves against him, Shannon is forced to relinquish the family and to desert Teresa, a widow for whom he had developed strong feelings. With the entire city searching for him, Shannon suddenly discovers an unexpected ally who can only promise him pain and loss, yet who offers the possibility of redemption. Surprise follows surprise, particularly in the final quarter of the book, as he discovers that the road to what he wants most is not only the most difficult path but also the most dangerous.
I will leave it to people smarter than me for the definitive word on the subject, but Shannon arguably represents the flawed, human side of Christ, a man who tries to do well and good in a time and place where doing so could cost you your life. Given Klavan’s refusal to observe the demands of political correctness, THE IDENTITY MAN might upset those who could benefit most from reading it, but is in any event a haunting and ultimately uplifting work.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 3, 2011