Publisher: Viking, 2008
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Where I Got It: Bought it (and will soon be sending it to its new home with Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania)
My Rating: 4.5 stars
The Likeness is Tana French’s second novel and a follow-up of sorts to In The Woods. Although you don’t need to have read the first book to follow this one, I highly recommend that you read them in order as The Likeness references events that happened in the first book. In addition, Tana French has a unique approach to writing her novels. In her first book, the narrator was Rob Ryan, a Dublin Murder Squad detective who has a bit of a personal crisis when a secret from his past and one of his cases become intermingled. In that book, we got to know his partner, Cassie Maddox, through Rob’s eyes. In this book, Cassie is the narrator, and, as the book starts, she is dealing with the fallout of the Operation Vestal. (The events of The Likeness start 6 months after the events of In The Woods.)
At the start of the book, Cassie is doing time in Domestic Violence (DV) after quitting the Murder Squad due to Operation Vestal. But her talents and interests lie elsewhere as DV doesn’t quite engage her mind or get her adrenaline pumping quite like murder or undercover work. So when her old boss Frank Mackey from the Undercover unit calls, Cassie thrills at the chance to get back into the mix of things. When she gets to the crime scene where Frank has summoned her, she finds something very disturbing and unexpected: a dead girl who is the spitting image of Cassie. Not only that, the dead girl’s ID says she is “Lexie Madison,” which is the alias that Cassie and Frank created back in Cassie’s undercover days. Just who is this Lexie Madison? How and why did she end up dead? And how did she come to use the identity that Cassie and Frank created?
Seeing a unique opportunity, Frank proposes something outrageous and dangerous: Cassie should assume Lexie’s identity and flush out the killer. Cassie’s boyfriend Sam (who is the lead detective on the case) is dead-set against this idea. But Frank is persuasive, and Cassie realizes that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she can’t pass up. So the police put out the story that the four stab wounds weren’t quite fatal and Lexie Madison managed to survive. Once Cassie gets up to speed on Lexie’s life, “Lexie” is released from the hospital and returns home to Whitethorn House, a large mansion shared by a group of close-knit friends who are known for their intimacy and rather strange group dynamics—as well as their the barriers they’ve erected between themselves and the rest of the world. Infiltrating this group and flushing out the killer will take all of Cassie’s wits, intelligence, daring and luck. What Cassie didn’t expect was how assuming Lexie’s life would affect her emotionally as the line between Cassie and Lexie begins to blur and blend.
Doesn’t this sound like an intense and fantastic idea for a story? And I’m thrilled to report that Tana French hit another home run with this book. Just as with In the Woods, I got completely involved in the story. French has a way of writing that just draws you in, and the tension and stress that Cassie experiences seems to leap right out of pages and into the reader. I was on pins and needles throughout this book and could not wait to find out where the story was going to go. Unlike In The Woods, French doesn’t leave us with such a messy and ambiguous ending, and I think that will be appreciated by readers who got bent out of shape with how In The Woods ended. (And no … you don’t really get closure on Operation Vestal either, but Cassie does deal with her feelings for Rob.)
Having read two of her books now, I can say that French has a particular talent for immersing the reader in the story. French takes her time developing the story and the characters, which results in a vicarious reading experience that has the reader slipping into Cassie’s skin in much the same way that Cassie is slipping into Lexie’s. Just as when I read In The Woods, I felt like I left my real life when I read the books and walked into the story. It isn’t a book you should rush through; you need to savor it and enjoy the ride. Plus, sometimes things were so intense that you’ll need to take a break.
If you like intelligent mysteries with well-drawn characters, psychological tension and suspense, and excellent writing, both The Likeness and In The Woods are must reads. (And read them in order!!) Knowing that French only has one more book out now (A Faithful Place, which features Frank Mackey), I’m saving it for myself as I don’t want to live in a world where I don’t have a Tana French book to read.
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