Set sometime in the near future, Cast of Shadows has as its protagonist Davis Moore, a successful private practice physician specializing in cloning human babies for infertile couples. Early in the book, Anna Kat, his high school senior daughter, is murdered and raped. (For a while a likely suspect is Mickey the Gerund, a right wing extremist member of the Hands of God with a fascinating grammatical moniker never explained, who shoots cloning physicians, including Dr. Moore, in the abdomen, a short time before his daughter, Anna Kat, is brutally killed. However, Mickey is only a shadow of a suspect and quickly becomes supplanted by another much more likely villain. Mickey goes on to kill, by various methods, dozens of cloning physicians and staff by book's end.)

After a year of unsuccessful detective work, the local police return Anna Kat's belongings, including a plastic vial with the suspected murderer-rapist's semen. In an act never fully explored by Dr. Moore or the author, an otherwise rational and ethical physician surreptitiously uses the suspect's semen to fertilize a married woman patient.

The offspring, a clone of the suspected killer-rapist, is Justin, who becomes a formidable presence in the book. He is very intelligent--at his psychologist's advice, his parents provide him at an early age with advanced reading materials like Plato (hence one of the allusions to shadows, i.e., Plato's cave, in the book's title and referenced directly on page 118 and indirectly on page 208) and other philosophers. By the time he is a senior in high school, Justin has become a dominant player in the affairs of Dr. Moore; Sally Barwick, a private investigator-turned journalist; and the suspected killer-rapist--his origin of the species as it were.

This book has a number of subplots all of which radiate from the initial cloning and the various members of the extended family and professional staff involved in it, some knowingly, most not. There are narrative threads involving the suspected murderer rapist-now-prominent attorney, Sam Coyne; the triangle of Dr. Moore and Jackie, his alcoholic wife, and Joan, his attractive pediatrician associate; Mickey the Gerund's various murderous and obsessional religious activities and reflections; Justin's life in school and involvement with Sally Barwick's investigation of a serial killer called The Wicker Man; and, most especially, the development of Shadow World, a computer game and a virtual replica of the real world--the world as Justin, Sally, Sam Coyne, and Dr. Davis Moore know it.

Since this is a thriller, it would be inappropriate to divulge more of the plot, which is intricate, often a little far-fetched but always engaging, highly readable and more labyrinthine than most medical thrillers.


His first novel, Kevin Guilfoile's Cast of Shadows is a very, very ambitious work. It is much more than a whodunit of science fiction involving cloning and murder--a lot of murder: the body count in this book exceeds a hundred people at the hands of two serial killers and various minor characters. It is a retelling of the Frankenstein myth; an epistemological inquiry into reality in a society where escape into the virtual reality of Shadow World is numbingly common and confusing; an exploration of the nature of reduplication, whether it be genetic or computer-based; the conundrum of evil [(Joan tells Davis that "Evil is a physical constant. Like gravity" (45)]; and, finally, a very effective intertwining of these motifs with the age-old question of free will and determinism, especially vis-à-vis ethics, whether it be the ethics of information [One of the more fascinating characters in the book, Big Rob, a private detective, says that "INFORMATION IS MORALLY NEUTRAL" [original in italics] (67)] or the ethics of medicine or the ethics of extremists like Mickey the Gerund, who becomes a surprisingly eloquent spokesman for the religious right.

When Davis Moore clones Justin (whose real name, "Justin Finn," is a dactyl--with three n's, including a terminal one--curiously akin to "Frankenstein"), he is re-enacting Mary Shelley's 1818 novel wherein an irresponsible male scientist creates a male offspring whom he abandons for others to rear. Joan accuses Davis of carving Justin "out of a monster," i.e., Sam Coyne.

On page 205, Davis Moore suddenly realizes the identity of his daughter's killer might be at question and wonders, with clear echoic references to Victor Frankenstein, "Had the monster been so close all along?" Just as Mary Shelley did, Kevin Guilfoile makes it far from clear who, among the many monsters in this book, is THE monster.

Mr. Guilfoile studies doubling, replication, twinning and close similarities with a steady and exhaustive but never tedious hand. If there is a word for double in the thesaurus that the author has missed, it is unknown to me. We encounter textual mentions of "doppelgänger"(58) double agent (83), simulacrum, and avatar (222). Justin is fascinated to be a clone of Sam Coyne, a biological twin but with separate thoughts (212-214).

The author cleverly enriches this question of identity (one that plagued Victor Frankenstein's Monster as well--or, more precisely, of having a unique identity that was part of humanity) by using the same vocabulary but with different reasoning when Justin is discussing Shadow World: he asks Sally about her Shadow World self, " 'So you're something like twins, Justin said. Twins with the same mind' " (265).

Nor does Guilfoile fail to mine the fertile opportunities for psychic and psychoanalytic confusion. When Justin sees Sam Coyne (his genetic self-father) sexually assaulting his mother, it gives new meaning to terms like primal scene and Oedipal conflict. The fictional possibilities today's science affords artists would leave Sophocles and Freud cognitively and imaginatively stunned.

However, the heart of this cloning narrative is clearly the ineluctable relationship of biology to destiny as Freud so presciently recognized. Guilfoile has carefully loaded the deck with discussions of free will. Ironically, the two apologists for determinism are Justin and Mickey the Gerund. As Justin explicates his view of free will to Sally in a dream " 'You and I are instruments,' Justin would say. 'Instruments don't have causes.' " (83).

Later, the real Justin (not a dream Justin or his avatar in Shadow World) tells Dr. Moore, " 'Dr. Moore, I believe that choices, all choices, are made for us. ... But when we pretend to exercise free will, when we make what we think are choices, we're really just signing off on that which had been preordained by the universe. A hurricane has more choices than man' "(231).

Mickey the Gerund, in an astonishingly cogent and articulate, if flawed, apology for his actions throughout the book, argues that, " 'Some things you mean to do, some things you don't, and EVERYTHINg [original in italics] you do has unintended consequences' " (311). In the same monologue he states, about one of the many killings he has performed as a soldier of Hands of God, " 'I made a choice--not a choice, really, but a necessary decision...' " (314).

Both Justin and Mickey the Gerund sound eerily like Mary Shelley's 1831 Victor Frankenstein, much more a fatalist than his 1818 version, and ipso facto less consciously or unconsciously aware of his own failings in the causation of "unintended consequences," or of his own responsibility for the events in this progenitor of Cast of Shadows.


Alfred A. Knopf

Place Published

New York



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