Cast of Shadows

( 7 )

Overview

This icily innovative thriller begins with every parent’s worst nightmare, when Davis Moore’s teenage daughter is brutally raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. It gets worse. For Davis Moore is a fertility doctor, dealing with cutting-edge genetic reproductive techniques. It’s a controversial and dangerous occupation: Moore has already been the object of a fanatic’s assassination attempt. But for a father driven half-mad by grief, his work presents one startling and dangerous opportunity–the chance to look...
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Cast of Shadows

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Overview

This icily innovative thriller begins with every parent’s worst nightmare, when Davis Moore’s teenage daughter is brutally raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. It gets worse. For Davis Moore is a fertility doctor, dealing with cutting-edge genetic reproductive techniques. It’s a controversial and dangerous occupation: Moore has already been the object of a fanatic’s assassination attempt. But for a father driven half-mad by grief, his work presents one startling and dangerous opportunity–the chance to look into the face of his daughter’s killer.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Equal parts speculative fiction and philosophical thriller, Kevin Guilfoile's riveting debut novel -- which chronicles a fertility doctor's highly unethical quest to identify a murderer -- asks the question: How far would you go to look into the face of your daughter's killer?

Dr. Davis Moore is one of the nation's leading experts in cloning and cloning ethics; but after his teenage daughter, Anna, is found brutally murdered and the case goes unsolved, his grief leads him to do the unthinkable. Although it's illegal to use DNA from a living human in reproductive cloning, Moore uses sperm taken from the crime scene -- the police inadvertently placed a vial containing the killer's DNA with Anna's belonging before returning them to Moore -- and uses it to help a young couple struggling to start a family. Moore secretly follows the birth and development of the cloned child, Justin Finn, in hopes of putting a face on his daughter's killer. As Justin -- a paradoxical child prodigy who was reading Plato by the third grade -- grows up, he becomes obsessed with the Wicker Man, a seemingly unstoppable serial killer stalking Chicago's West Side. With the aid of a popular interactive video game called Shadow World, Justin vows to catch the killer -- and find himself.

Unsettling, intensely thought provoking, and delectably creepy, Guilfoile's Cast of Shadows is one of those rare novels that will haunt readers' gray matter indefinitely afterward. Fans who enjoy science-based thrillers like Steven-Eliot Altman's Deprivers and White Devils by Paul McAuley will thoroughly enjoy this disturbing cautionary tale -- metaphysical manna. Paul Goat Allen
From the Publisher
"A spellbinding novel. . . . Mature, intelligent, stylishly written and more than a little bit dark." —Chicago Tribune

"Striking. . . . Guilfoile's tricky, high-concept plot continually subverts and plays with the reader's expectations. . . . Gripping." —The New York Times

"A masterpiece of intelligent plotting. . . . A rare thriller that dares to make telling the difference between right and wrong, fate and choice, as difficult as it is in real life." —Salon

“Always surprising. . . . Complete with elegant prose and well-developed characters.” —The New York Times Book Review

Mark Schone
All of Guilfoile's characters, whether clones, online ''avatars'' or killers, inhabit the real world. Their motives are small and familiar, and they can't see past the ends of their own noses. When the book's secret is revealed, it's not about the violence in computer games, or about nature versus nurture, or the overreach of science, or the Pandora's box of cloning. It's about human failure, the power of conviction and the random disorder of daily life. Ultimately, Guilfoile's finely rendered re-creation of the real world is what elevates Cast of Shadows above clone lit. In what may be the book's only hint of satire, the clone kid sets a Dean Koontz novel on fire.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
In Guilfoile's debut novel, an interesting mix of literary thriller and scientific contemplation, a little boy is brought into being to solve a heinous crime. The time is the distant future, and human cloning has become legal. When the daughter of noted fertility doctor Davis Moore is brutally raped and murdered he uses a vial of DNA to clone the killer so that he can uncover the reasoning behind the gruesome crime. With both his marriage and his career in ruins, Davis faces the chilling prospect of eventually looking his daughter's killer in the eye. In logical yet compelling fashion, the novel takes on themes of good and evil, past lives, and scientific cloning in an intricately woven story. Recommended for most public libraries with a collection emphasis on new and noteworthy suspense novelists, as well as for readers of Robin Cook and Tess Gerritsen. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/04.]-Christopher J. Korenowsky, Columbus Metropolitan Lib. Syst., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut thriller about human cloning, with enough plotting to sustain a TV miniseries. Maybe that's the idea. Sometime in the near future, Chicago fertility doctor Davis Moore is about to clone a child. Still reeling from the brutal rape and murder of his daughter, Anna Kat, the usually ethical Davis breaks the law that requires DNA samples to be taken only from dead humans. Hoping to track the killer by finding someone whose appearance matches that of the cloned child, Moore uses sperm suctioned from Kat's dead body. With several narrative directions possible-variations on The Boys from Brazil or The Other, for example-journalist Guilfoile (The New Republic, McSweeney's, etc.) takes nearly all of them. He cuts predictably to a disturbed fundamentalist, Mickey the Gerund, who stalks fertility clinics, at one point shooting and wounding Moore. The Finns, parents of cloned baby Justin, hire a detective to learn something about the person Davis alleged to be the DNA donor. Davis hires the same detective to photograph Justin and then uses software to see what the child will look like as an adult. Meanwhile, the doctor's depressed wife commits suicide, and he confides his guilty cloning secret to Joan Burton, an associate who's attracted to him. The two head to Nebraska to pursue a lead (and a subplot) that sputters out. Back in Chicago, a serial killer known as the Wicker Man is at large. Is he Kat's murderer? The sprawling chase finally comes into some focus as Justin tells Davis that he's certain the source of his DNA is a man who sexually assaulted his mother. Davis thereupon follows a circuitous path to the wrap-up. Fresh idea hampered by conventional treatment-and way too much of it. Firstprinting of 75,000; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400078264
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/23/2006
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 580,798
  • Product dimensions: 8.02 (w) x 5.23 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Guilfoile has written for McSweeney’s, Salon, The New Republic and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Chicago with his wife and child.
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Read an Excerpt

Davis Moore is a fertility doctor in Chicago specializing in reproductive cloning. When his daughter is raped and murdered by an unknown assailant, he entertains a monstrous thought...

The detective was polite each morning when he called, and Davis feigned patience each morning when the detective, after small talk, confessed to having no leads. Well, not zero leads, exactly: A profile had been made of the attacker. The police believed he was white and fair-skinned. They had some general idea about his size, based on the placement of the bruises and the force exerted on her arm, breaking it in two, but that ruled out only the unusually short and the freakishly tall. They did not think he was obese, according to their reconstruction of the rape itself. He may or may not have been someone Anna Kat knew–probably not, because if she had been expecting someone that night she might have told somebody, but then again, who can say?

The Medical Examiner said the injuries were consistent with rape, but could not comment on whether the District Attorney would include sexual assault along with the murder charge when police apprehended a suspect. When Davis expressed outrage after that information had appeared in the paper, the detective settled him down and assured him that when a beaten, broken, strangled girl has fresh semen inside her, that’s a rape in the cops’ book no matter what the M.E. says and then he apologized for putting it that way, for being so goddamn insensitive, and then Davis had to reassure the detective. That’s all right. He didn’t want them to be sensitive. He wanted the police to be as angry and raw as he was. The detective understood that the Moores wanted a resolution. "We know you want closure, Dr. Moore, and so do we," he said. "Some of these cases take time."

Often, the police told the Moores, a friend of the victim will think aloud during questioning, "It’s probably nothing, you know, but there’s this strange guy who was always hanging around..." This time, none of Anna Kat’s friends could offer even a cynical theory. Fingerprints were too plentiful to be useful ("It’s the Gap," the detective said. "Everyone in town has had their palms on that countertop") and they were sure the perpetrator had worn gloves anyway, by the thickness of the bruises on her wrists and neck. Daniel Kinney, Anna Kat’s off-again boyfriend, was questioned three times. He was appropriately distraught and cooperative, submitting to a blood test and bringing his parents, but never a lawyer.

Blonde hairs were found at the scene and police determined they belonged to the killer by comparing the DNA to his semen. With no suspect sharing those same microscopic markers, however, the evidence was an answer to an unasked question. A proof without hypothesis. Before or during the rape, she had been beaten. During or possibly after the rape, she had been strangled. One arm and both legs were broken. Seven hundred and forty nine dollars were missing from a pair of registers and there might have been some clothes gone from the racks (the embarrassed store manager wasn’t sure about that, inventory being something of a mess, but it’s possible that a few pocket tees were taken. Extra Large. The police noted this in their profile).

Northwood panicked for a few weeks. The bakery, True Value, Coffee Nook, fruit stand, two ice cream parlors, six restaurants, three hairdressers, and two dozen or so other shops, including the Gap, of course (but not the White Hen), began closing at sundown. More spouses met their partners at the train, their cars in long queues parallel to the tracks each night. The cops put in for overtime, and the town borrowed officers from Glencoe. If you were under 18, you were home before curfew. The Chicago and Milwaukee TV stations made camp for awhile on Main Street (news producers determined that Oak Street, where the Gap shared the block with a carpet store, parking lot, and funeral home, didn’t provide enough "visual interest" and chose to shoot stand-ups around the corner where there was more pedestrian traffic and overall "quaintness"), but there turns out to be a limit to the number of nights you can report that there is, as yet, nothing to report, and TV crews disappeared as a group the day a Northwestern basketball player collapsed and died of an aneurysm during practice.

The old routine returned in time. By spring, Anna Kat might not have been forgotten–what with the softball team wearing the "AK" patch, the special appointment of Debbie Fuller to fill the vacancy of Student Council Secretary, and the three-page, full-color yearbook dedication all keeping her top of mind around campus–but Northwood became unafraid again. A horrible alien had killed on its streets; Northwood had been shattered, and the people made repairs. The town grieved and, like the alien, moved on.

***

Eighteen months after the murder, the detective told Davis (still calling twice a week) that he could pick up Anna Kat’s things. This doesn’t mean were giving up, he said. We have the evidence photographed, the DNA scanned. Phone ahead and we’ll have them ready. Like a pizza, Davis thought.

"I don’t want to see them," Jackie said. You don’t have to, he told her.

"Will you burn the clothes?" He promised he would.

"Will they ever find him, Dave?" He shook his head, shrugged, and shook his head again.

He imagined a big room with rows of shelves holding boxes of carpet fibers and photos and handwriting samples and taped confessions, evidence enough to convict half the North Shore of something or other. He thought there would be a window and, behind it, a chunky and gray flatfoot who would spin a clipboard in front of him and bark, "Shine heah. By numbah fouwa." Instead, he sat at the detective’s desk and the parcel was brought to him with condolences, wrapped in brown paper and tied with fraying twine.

He took it to his office at the clinic, closed the door, and cut the string with a pair of long-handled stainless-steel surgical scissors. The brown postal paper flattened into a square in the center of his desk and he put his hands on top of the pile of clothes, folded but unwashed. He picked up her blouse and examined the dried stains, both blood and the other kind. Her jeans had been knifed and torn from her body, ripped from the zipper through the crotch and halfway down the seams. Her panties were torn. Watch, ring, earrings, gold chain (broken), anklet. There were shoes, black and low-heeled, which they must have found near the body. With a shudder, Davis remembered those bare, mannequin feet.

There was something else, too.

Inside one of the shoes: a small plastic vial, rubber-stoppered and sealed with tape. A narrow sticker ran down the side with Anna Kat’s name and a bar code and the letters "UNSUB" written in blue marker, along with numbers and notations Davis couldn’t decipher. UNSUB, he knew, stood for "unidentified subject" which was the closest thing he had to a name for his enemy.

He recognized the contents, however, even in such a small quantity.

It was the milky-white fuel of his practice, swabbed and suctioned from inside his daughter’s body. A portion had been tested, no doubt–DNA mapped–and the excess stored here with the rest of the meager evidence. Surely they didn’t intend this to be mixed up in Anna Kat’s possessions. This stuff, for certain, did not belong to her.

He planned for a moment on returning to the police station and erupting at the detective. "This is why you haven’t found him! He’s still out there while you fumble around your desk, wrapping up tubes of rapist left-behind and handing them out to the fathers of dead girls like Secret Santa presents!"

The stuff in this tube, ordinarily in his workday so benign, had been a bludgeon used to attack his daughter, and his stomach could not have been more knotted if Davis had discovered a knife used to slit her throat. He had often thought of sperm and eggs–so carefully carted about the clinic, stored and cooled in antiseptic canisters–as being like plutonium: with power to be finessed and harnessed. The stuff in this tube, though, was weapons grade, and the monster that had wielded it remained smug and carefree.

There was more. A plastic bag with several short, blonde hairs torn out by the roots. These were also labeled UNSUB, presumably by a lab technician who had matched the DNA from the follicles to genetic markers in the semen. There were enough hairs to give Davis hope that AK had at least inflicted some pain, that she had ripped these from his scrotum with a violent yank of her fist.

Rubbing the baggie between his fingers, Davis conjured a diabolical thought. And once the thought had been invented, once his contemplation had made such an awful thing possible, he understood his choices were not between acting and doing nothing, but acting and intervening. By even imagining it, Davis had set the process in motion. Toppled the first domino.

He opened a heavy drawer in his credenza and tucked the vial and the plastic bag into the narrow space between the letter-sized hanging folders and the back wall of the cabinet.

In his head, the dominoes fell away from him, out of reach, collapsing into divergent branches with an accelerated tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

***

Justin Finn, nine pounds, six ounces, was born on March 2 of the following year. Davis monitored the pregnancy with special care and everything had gone almost as described in Martha’s worn copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. There was a scary moment, in month six, when the child was thought to be having seizures, but they never recurred. It was the only time between fertilization and birth that Davis thought he might be exposed. Baby Justin showed no evidence of brain damage or epilepsy, and after the Finns took their happy family home, they sent Davis a box of cigars and a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan.

The house on Stone fell into predictable measures of hostility and calm. Davis and Jackie were frequently cruel to one another, but never violent. They were often kind, but never loving. An appointment was made with a counselor but the day came and went and they both pretended it had slipped their minds.

"I’ll reschedule it," said Jackie.

"I’ll do it," said Davis, generously relieving her of responsibility when the phone call was never made.

In the third month of the Finn pregnancy, Jackie had left to spend time with her sister in Seattle. "Just for a visit,"she said. Davis wondered if it were possible their marriage could end this way, without a declaration, but with Joan on a holiday from which she never returned. He didn’t always send the things she asked for–clothes and shoes, mostly–and she hardly ever asked for them twice. Jackie continued to fill the prescriptions he sent each month along with a generous check.

In Jackie’s absence, Davis avoided social, or even casual, conversation with Joan Burton. It had been fine for him to admire Dr. Burton, even to fantasize about her when he could be certain nothing would happen. Throughout his marriage, especially when Anna Kat was alive, Davis knew he was no more likely to enter into an affair than he was apt to find himself training for a moon mission, or playing fiddle in a bluegrass band. He wasn’t a cheater, therefore it was not possible that he could cheat. With Jackie away and their marriage undergoing an unstated dissolution, he could no longer say a relationship with Joan was impossible. He feared the moment, perhaps during a weekday lunch at Rossini’s, when their pupils might fix and the dominoes in his head would start toppling again: tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

Jackie returned just before Christmas as if that had been her intention all along. She and Davis fell back into their marriage of few words. Davis restarted the small talk with Joan, even buying her a weekday lunch at Rossini’s.

Anna Kat had been dead for three years.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. “A lot of people, particularly women, still find the idea of their genetic duplicate to be a little unsettling. An old classmate of mine wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine last year claiming some relationship between this phenomenon and female self-image” [p. 7]. Do you agree that women are more disturbed by the idea of cloning than men are? If so, what reasons—beyond self-image—might account for this?

2. Davis spells out the strict guidelines governing human cloning for the Finns [pp. 6–9]. Do these regulations adequately cover all the ramifications of cloning a human? Do Davis’s approach and the reactions of Martha and Terry [p. 10] raise questions about the screening process and other aspects of the system?

3. Is Davis’s overwhelming need “to look into the eyes of his daughter’s murderer” [p. 62] the normal reaction of a grieving father? How realistic is his assumption that confronting the killer will bring an end to his suffering and restore his and Jackie’s happiness?

4. The anti-cloning movement is presented from the point of view of Mickey the Gerund [pp. 46–50, for example]. How does this influence the reader’s impression of the movement? To what extent does Guilfoile draw distinctions between Mickey’s fanaticism and more sympathetic arguments opposing cloning? What parallels are there between Mickey’s attitudes and tactics and those of current anti-abortion protesters?

5. How does the Finns’ relationship with each other affect their attitudes about Justin? Is Terry’s interest in tracing the DNA donor understandable, or are his motives suspect? Why is Martha so confident that Justin will “get more of his personality from us than he will from some mystery man” [p. 53]? What does her attitude reflect about her attachment to Justin? What does it reveal about her own needs as a mother? At what point in the novel do her feelings change, and why?

6. Does your opinion of Davis change as the novel progresses? What particular incidents make him a sympathetic character? To what extent are his difficulties the result of selfishness or arrogance?

7. Is it unethical of Davis to ask Joan to keep his secret [pp. 71–72]? Does she acquiesce because she agrees with his argument? Are they primarily concerned with protecting Justin, or is it equally important to them to safeguard their reputations and their practices? When Davis later lies to his lawyer about the nature of his experiment [p. 163], is he motivated by fear or by what he believes is an inviolable ethical obligation to Justin?

8. When Justin exhibits violent tendencies at age seven, Davis dismisses it—“He’s a kid. Kids get in trouble”—and declares with confidence, “Genetics have nothing to do with it. . . . If there’s ever been a killer who had a killer for a son, it’s because the child learned the behavior from his pop. . . . Not because he scored the evil gene” [p. 97]. Why does his certainty gradually erode? Is it possible for Davis to be objective about the nature vs. nurture issue?

9. Guilfoile portrays Justin at various ages, charting both his extraordinary intelligence and his increasing tendency toward violence. How does this technique help to create an escalating sense of suspense? How does it set the groundwork for the ultimate confrontation between Justin and Davis [p. 203]? What does their conversation at this clandestine meeting reveal about each of them? Does the balance of power between them change?

10. Why does Guilfoile introduce the computer game Shadow World? Is it an effective plot device? How does it enhance the themes of the novel? How does it relate to the novel’s title? What other interpretations of the title does the author suggest, either directly or indirectly?

11. Justin says, “We’re not made up of our thoughts, you know, even though that’s the only way most of us can approach the question of identity” [p. 212]. Do you think it is necessary, as Justin maintains, to separate the thinker from his thoughts? Does he offer a credible alternative theory about how humans develop a sense of individuality and identity? What role does this, along with his contention that there is no such thing as free will, play in his quest to expose Sam Coyne? How does it affect the decision he eventually makes about his own life?

12. At the conference sponsored by the California Association of Libertarian Scientists, Davis contrasts his approach to that of a colleague: “He suggests that just because we can clone human beings doesn’t mean we should. I tell him he’s answered the wrong question. If we can do something—to increase health, to increase happiness—doesn’t that mean we must?” [p. 179]. Looking at this question in terms not only of cloning but also other radical medical procedures, which viewpoint is closer to your own? What experiences, religious beliefs, or personal philosophies support your position?

13. Mickey and Davis are both driven men, ignoring the law and the rules of society to achieve their ends. In what ways are their motivations and their methods similar? Does the fact that Davis’s quest is grounded in science and Mickey’s in religious belief make an essential difference in the validity and morality of their actions?

14. For Davis, an agnostic, “cloning was never about playing God. It was about replicating God’s work, following the blueprints of God’s greatest achievement and creating life” [p. 139]. After bringing Justin into the world and watching him grow up, however, Davis is forced to confront the enormity of his actions: “Justin was not conceived in a lab or in the womb but in Davis’s mind. He existed because Davis had wanted him to, and what kind of being does that describe if not a god?” [p. 240]. What are the implications of Davis’s confusion, both in terms of the novel and in a wider sense?

15. Cast of Shadows ends with a surprising confession. Do you find this a satisfactory conclusion? What light does it shed on the philosophical and scientific certainties that inform discussions about the balance between genetics and environment in shaping character? What do you think is the ultimate message of the novel?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006

    A Clever Book

    This first novel- more thriller than scifi- has a great concept and good characterization, although the convoluted, interwoven storylines tend to periodically give you a few moment's pause as you sort them out. (And sometimes they just...go away, taking a few characters with them.) Still, the suspense builds fairly steadily, and the ending is a genuine (but fitting) surprise. The book raises a few ethical questions about cloning and the characters debate them to some degree, but that doesn't really seem to be the main focus of the book. (See the great new scifi thriller An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely for a novel that tackles the thorny ethical issues of human medical experimentation head on.) What Cast of Shadows offers instead is a psychological cat-and-mouse game and tense entertainment. The depiction of Shadow World, a creepy online role-playing 'game' of the future that blurs the distinction between what's real and what isn't, is perhaps the best invention in the book the suspense is ratcheted up when Shadow World appears. And as the killer is methodically hunted in true mystery novel fashion (although with far more conviction and purpose than your typical 'gumshoe' fare,) Cast of Shadows proves able to blend several genres into a satisfying whole. And you'll definitely wish for another round of Shadow World someday.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2005

    Smart and Intense

    Kevin Guilfoile has crafted a suspenseful story set in the near-future, when human cloning is legal but still controversial. When Davis Moore, a specialist in this area, clones DNA found inside his murdered daughter's body, he sets in chain a series of events whose stunning consequences play out over a period of nearly two decades. Along with the real world in this tale exists a 'Shadow World', a computer game in which story characters play themselves, interacting with each other and developing the plot further. The original and exciting premise of this novel makes it hard to put down. By the time the story is finished, it has taken the proportions of a Greek tragedy. This is a book whose unique tale will stay with you long after you have put it down. I highly recommend it.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    exhilarating medical thriller

    In Chicago fertility Dr. Davis Moore mourns the brutal rape and murder of his seventeen years old daughter, Anna Kat. He finds no closure when the police fail to break the case symbolized by returning his child¿s stuff to him. However, amongst Anna Kat¿s items is an inadvertently left vial of sperm that Davis knows must have come from the culprit. Though once ethical, Davis breaks the law by using the DNA of a live person to impregnate Martha Finn so that her child would provide the visage of his daughter¿s killer. --- A few years later Davis depressed wife has committed suicide while he uses software to see what the cloned child Justin will look like as an adult. He also informs his peer Joan Burton that he broke the law by using a live person¿s DNA. She joins him as they follow clues that lead to a Windy City serial killer the Wicker Man, but no proof that Anna Kat is one of his victims though Justin feels an affinity to this sociopath. --- This exhilarating medical thriller grips the audience who will wonder if Davis is looking at the face of his daughter¿s killer when he stares at Justin and whether he created a chip off the old block in a Frankenstein way. The story line is action-packed, but has several subplots that add suspense but seem like unnecessary detours that husks the reader away from the prime theme. Still Kevin Guilfoile cooks up an extremely exciting tale with several intriguing moral questions that would make even the Kansas AG pause before demanding information.--- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted February 12, 2009

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