Identity Man by Andrew Klavan

The Identity ManTakeaway: Explores the idea of whether a person can really change, and what it takes to motivate them if they can change.

I first heard about this book, as I do so many, from Books and Culture magazine. John Wilson, the editor, named it one of his personal books of the year and it was also discussed on the B&C podcast.

I was pushed into buying it when it dropped to just over $2.00 in kindle format (back up to normal price now).  What actually moved me to read it was a malaise with my standard non-fiction fare.  I just needed something different.

Once I started, I was hooked.  I finished the book in three days (pretty unusual for me since I usually read a half dozen books at a time.)

Identity Man is an anti-hero book.  I like the concept of anti-heros.  Or at least this version of anti-heros.  Those that are on the wrong side of the law most of the time, but have a real sense of honor, pride and understanding of the lines that they will not cross.  Usually I see this in spy fiction or in fantasy or superhero fiction.

Identity Man is clearly in the realm of the possible though.  John Shannon is a petty thief.  He has been convicted twice and is in danger of the three strikes law, life in prison, if convicted again.  That has not stopped him from being a criminal.  He feels a need.  That need is only abated when he is working with wood.  A natural, and untrained craftsman, Shannon carves and sculpts wood in his free time.

But during a robbery gone bad, his partner attempts to rape a woman who was in what they had thought was an empty building.  Shannon stops the rape, but knows that stopping it will lead to his arrest.

He goes into hiding and is contacted by someone unknown.  Shannon eventually is taken, given a new face and a new life and left in a new city.  This new city is a Gotham style city of corruption, crime and danger.  Before he is left to his new life, he has a conversation with his shadowy doctor.  The doctor tells him that “Identity is a stain”.  He insinuates that Shannon may have a new face and a new identity but that he will continue to be a petty criminal and end up in jail, just like he would have before.

This idea of ‘identity as stain’ is throughout the book.  Shannon has to decide how he will act, where he will work, whether he will return to crime.  And when the twist comes, how he will react and whether his new life is something worth fighting for or whether he will flee and try for a new life, yet again.

I won’t reveal much of the story, but city politics, corrupt cops, gangs and violence are throughout the book.  There are hints at Christian background and some bible quotes but this is not a Christian book.  This is a thriller, intended to be a wild ride, but also to make you think.

Klavan is known as a conservative writer.  But that is more around his politics than a writing style.  There is language, violence and sex in this book.  It is not for kids, or young teens.  But it is worth reading as an adult.

Before I started writing this review, I had thought that Klavan was a relatively recent writer.  But he has been around.  He wrote books that turned into movies (True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood and Don’t Say a Word staring Michael Douglas) as well as several movie screen plays.  He has won two Edgar Awards (top Mystery writer’s prize).  Recently he is best known for his series of young adult thrillers, The Homelanders.  I will probably pick those up next.

Purchase Links: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook


I just finished this. I enjoyed it but was surprised by the adult content of the novel. I have read the Homelander series previously. I knew this was written for an adult audience and had read your review but there were some raw descriptions that I was not expecting.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: