2 out of 4 stars
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Can you imagine being falsely accused, arrested, and subsequently indicted for a crime you didn’t commit? The Look-Alike by Joseph A. Levy is a legal mystery about a case of mistaken identity set in the early eighties, before the convenience of online research.
Michael Biton is a hard-working legal student who has every reason to be optimistic about his future. After finishing his first year at Brooklyn Law School, he has recently started an internship with Corporation Counsel, the law office that defends the City of New York’s accident cases. However, Michael’s life is turned upside-down when a rape victim identifies him as her assailant. Despite the lack of any physical evidence against him, assistant district attorney Nancy Lester seems to have a personal vendetta against him. Michael’s future is put on hold as he faces one challenge after another in his personal life during the twenty-one months that elapse while awaiting his case to be brought to trial. As the financial strain of paying his attorney creates added tension, Michael clings to his faith in the legal system, desperate for his name to be cleared.
The strength of the book is found in the portrayal of the close-knit Jewish family’s faith and commitment to each other. Michael’s parents are from Morocco, and there are many interesting references to the family’s Sephardic Jewish heritage throughout the book. However, though I’m partial to legal thrillers and couldn’t wait to read this one, the storyline seemed to drag as much as the court case calendar. I kept turning pages in hopes of a plot twist that would quicken the pace, but the book simply didn’t deliver. When I learned that the author had resigned from practicing law after twenty years in response to his own circumstances of disillusionment, I came to the conclusion that he must have been making a statement about the legal system itself. The book would have been better suited written as autobiographical non-fiction.
I also noted several inconsistencies in the plot. For example, early in the book, Michael is asked by a detective if he would be willing to provide a blood sample as a possible means of eliminating him as a suspect. He responds that he will have to first consult with his lawyer. While the blood test isn’t addressed between Michael and his attorney, much later in the book the subject is again introduced as if for the first time. When I have to thumb backwards through a book to see if I misread or misunderstood a significant point due to the author’s mistake, I find it frustrating. In addition, the book doesn’t appear to have been professionally edited, as there are multiple punctuation and typographical errors.
Before recommending the book to specific audiences, I feel the need to include a warning about the use of profanity. Though I only noted several instances, I was disappointed that all are gendered curse words that are disrespectful to women. There are also a few off-colored jokes in relation to rape that I simply can’t fathom. For all the above reasons, I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. Despite the issues I mentioned, it was still a fair read, so I don’t believe it deserves a lower rating. Legal students and fans of leisurely paced legal dramas may enjoy the book. It may also appeal to students of religion and Jewish readers. I would not recommend the book to lovers of legal suspense.
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