Book Review - Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile

Fall 2011 CSANews Issue 80  |  Posted date : Sep 02, 2011.Back to list

"How far would you go to look into the face of your daughter's murderer?" is the subtitle of Kevin Guilfoile's debut thriller. In Cast of Shadows, Guilfoile contemplates a future in which cloning is legal, with all of the inevitable ethical dilemmas that would result.

The main character of this riveting and unsettling novel is Chicago fertility specialist, Dr. Davis Moore. Moore's beloved 17-year-old daughter Anna Kat has been brutally raped and murdered. Months later, the case has been investigated, but never solved. When the heartbroken doctor finally retrieves his daughter's belongings, he finds that the police have mistakenly left a vial of the killer's DNA in Anna Kat's shoe.

It comes to him that theoretically, he could reproduce an individual who would grow up to be an exact replica of his daughter's murderer. A monstrous thought, but, "By even imagining it, Moore had set the process in action." Dr. Moore simply takes one of the eggs of a prospective mother and removes the nucleus. He then replaces the nucleus with the DNA from the sinister evidence vial, instead of the designated, legitimate donor.

The following year, little Justin is born to Terry and Martha Finn. They had consulted Dr. Moore because Martha had been diagnosed as a carrier of Huntington's disease and was advised not to conceive a child naturally. "With cloning, you're adopting a child in the embryonic stage," is the way Dr. Moore describes the procedure to the Finns.

Guilfoile has an uncanny ability to simplify complex information. In spite of all the media hoopla about Dolly (the cloned sheep) a few years back, I really didn't understand the mechanics of cloning.

In Cast of Shadows, Guilfoile envisions a future in which sperm and egg donors would routinely indicate whether or not they want to make their DNA available after they pass on. In this hypothetical situation, only the DNA of dead donors could be used and any remaining DNA material would be destroyed. This would theoretically ensure that every cloned child would be the only person alive with the same genetic markers. No duplicates!

Privacy regulations would prohibit cloning a person without his or her knowledge. "The repercussions for a doctor found guilty of illegal cloning could be devastating – loss of licence and possible jail time." Therefore, Dr. Moore literally puts his whole life in jeopardy, in his obsession to "look into the face of his daughter's murderer."

Cloning, like abortion and other fertility procedures is, and always will be, a divisive issue. Guilfoile, in following the development of little Justin through the first 17 years of his life, raises some basic existential questions, i.e. "Can a three-year-old have a past?", "What are you duplicating when you duplicate a human life?" and "Can you clone a soul?" These are questions that science cannot answer.

In Cast of Shadows there is, naturally, considerable opposition to cloning from some organized religious groups and from some individuals who feel that it is just plain wrong for humans to play God.

The novel offers a chillingly believable portrayal of Mickey – The Gerund, a religious zealot who spends 18 years eliminating cloning professionals and intimidating their families. The Gerund gets no perverted joy out of killing, but considers himself to be a "Soldier for God" just doing his duty.

In his visionary look at the cloning issue, Guilfoile brings a 21st-century twist to the provocative old question of nature versus nurture.

This impressive, new suspense novelist has created well-drawn, unpredictable characters and skilfully ratchets up the plot twists and the suspense, to the very last page. All good writing is a kind of storytelling. Cast of Shadows is storytelling at its best.