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by Scott Turow
Grand Central, May 2017
496 pages
ISBN: 1455553549

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Scott Turow takes a leave of absence from his familiar Kindle County (Chicago's stunt-double) to take readers to the Hague and, from there, to Bosnia, where the scars of the war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia more than twenty years ago are still fresh. Our guide is Bill ten Boom, a former prosecutor, whose life has suddenly unraveled when he and his wife agree to divorce and his work has lost all appeal. When he gets a call from an old friend inviting him to probe a decades-old case that has been reopened thanks to the appearance of a key witness, he takes a deep breath and embarks on a new and unexpected journey.

A Roma attorney and activist has located a witness to a terrible crime: during the Bosnian war, 400 Roma were allegedly led into a mine and buried in a deliberately-set explosion. Was it the work of a violent warlord who's in custody (a character modeled clearly on Radovan Karadzic)? Or could it have been the work of renegade Americans, angry about stolen weapons that were used to kill their comrades? Boom (as he is known) decides it's worth a thorough investigation, and his interest in life perks up. So does his interest in the Roma attorney, whose fiery passion for justice and her insouciant disregard of convention lead him into a steamy relationship.

With an Australian forensic anthropologist he travels to Bosnia to find out what he can about the atrocity, relying in part on an American veteran who has turned a genius for logistics into a profitable if somewhat sketchy business. She's the one who holds the key to the past, but as Boom and his sidekick start digging, everything they find leads in a new direction, their assumptions demolished one by one.

This novel has a few irritants. The amount of obscure Aussie slang the anthropologist indulges in is unlikely, and Boom seems to have no problem calling Roma people "Gypsies" even though he should know better. More problematic: his lack of curiosity about a person whose behavior is highly suspicious. His naivete approaches implausibility, and is the prelude to a fairly unsatisfactory resolution of one of the plot threads.

That said, the complexity of tracking down what actually happened during a time of war to a group of people who are eternal refugees makes for a fascinating trip through unfamiliar territory full of switchbacks and surprises. The characters are richly drawn and intriguing, with lives that are more than the sum of their role in advancing the plot. The slipperiness of the truth provides a chance to ponder ethics and jurisprudence. And while Turow isn't in his usual evocative Kindle County landscape, he finds interesting features to show us in Bosnia, including salt tanks that he uses creatively in a cinematic scene. On the whole, Turow's departure from his usual haunts is not his best work, but well worth the journey.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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