Series: Dublin Murder Squad #2
Published by Viking on July 17th 2008
The haunting follow up to the Edgar Award-winning debut In the Woods.
Tana French astonished critics and readers alike with her mesmerizing debut novel, In the Woods. Now both French and Detective Cassie Maddox return to unravel a case even more sinister and enigmatic than the first. Six months after the events of In the Woods, an urgent telephone call beckons Cassie to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who is this girl?
I found out early that you can throw yourself away, missing what you’ve lost.
This settles it. Tana French is now one of my new favourite authors. I read and loved In The Woods and immediately had the desire to pick up the sequel (though I forced myself to wait a little). I devoured The Likeness in a couple of days and I can now officially say that while In the Woods is a very good book, The Likeness is absolutely brilliant and one of favourites of the year so far.
Tana French has many strengths and building intricate, complex mysteries is only one of them. Just like its predecessor, The Likeness is just as much (if not more) about the characters committing and solving the crime, as it is about the mystery itself. To me, what makes Tana French novels so special, is how she seems to understand human nature so well.
Our entire society is based on discontent. People wanting more and more and more. Being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their décor, their clothes, everything – taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life. Never to be satisfied. If you are perfectly happy with what you got, especially if what you got isn’t even all that spectacular then you’re dangerous. You’re breaking all the rules. You’re undermining the sacred economy. You’re challenging every assumption that society is built on.
When I read her books I feel like she just gets it, like she sees people for who they really are instead of what they make themselves out to be. The result is a cast of characters so vibrant and authentic that they feel real to the reader and more than words on a page.
The premise for The Likeness is quite ridiculous. A couple of months after the events of the first book, Detective Cassie Maddox receives a frightened phone call from her partner Sam, asking her to show up to a murder scene – despite the fact that Cassie now works in Domestic Violence instead of Murder. As soon as she arrives, however, the reason reveals itself: the murdered girl looks exactly like Cassie. They are perfect doppelgängers. Moreover, this girl has assumed the fake identity Cassie used when she went on an undercover mission a couple years earlier, going by the name Lexie Madison. Because the murder turns out to be extremely tricky to solve – no physical evidence, no motives, no substantial suspects – Cassie once again assumes a different identity and moves into the home Lexie shared with four other PhD students in order to find clues as to who committed the crime.
Clearly, this is not a very believable story and I was worried that it would put me off, that I wouldn’t be able to suspend by disbelief. Fortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the case. I was swept up in the intrigue of the mystery from the first page and didn’t care that it wasn’t the most realistic story. Somehow, Tana French made it believable. She carefully described the steps the detectives had to take in order to pull Operation Mirror off, the intense physical and mental preparation required. And the author goes further than even that, we can feel how difficult it is for Cassie to stay in character, the constant stress and anxiety she is exposed to, and how being a different person for so long can really change your own self-image and make it difficult to distinguish between yourself and the role you play.
Cassie herself is a wonderful character and a new favourite of mine. I wanted so badly to be her best friend or sister, to protect her (not that she would have needed it) and to sit on the couch swapping stories. She is independent, determined and fiercely capable, very intelligent and cunning, yet also somehow broken and so very lonely. I found myself scared for Cassie, in awe of Cassie and rooting for her all the way, despite the fact that she did some questionable things. It’s so easy for her to be seduced by her situation, to lose herself in the job. Her yearning for the kind of friendship Lexie had with the four other students, as well as her own friendship with Rob, is palpable.
But give me more credit than that. Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.
What’s more, is how the author makes you – the reader – want to be integrated into the group yourself. Those friendships that seem stronger than anything and like you could push mountains together. It made me feel simultaneously hollow and nostalgic.
I wanted to tell her that being loved is a talent too, that it takes as much guts and as much work as loving; that some people, for whatever reason, never learn the knack.
Cassie is only one of the many complex, fleshed-out characters in this novel. All the housemates, as well as Sam and Frank, are impeccably well-drawn. They aren’t simply plot devices but people with real emotions, thoughts and pasts. Furthermore, French does a fantastic job of developing the relationships between the characters. As the story goes along, you start to understand how these five ended up together, what drove them, how they work. It’s fascinating.
The plot itself was well-paced with clues sprinkled here and there. There is no shocking revelation, and yet, saying the mystery was predictable wouldn’t be right either. It wasn’t. Tana French has a beautiful, evocative writing style that really pulls you in. From the moment I started I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down, despite its length and the sometimes wordier passages.
I was saddened by the fact that we didn’t get to see more of Rob, yet at the same time it also speaks to Cassie’s strength and character. She isn’t hung up on him or angsty; instead she moves on with her life and acknowledges when someone treated her badly.
As you can tell, I adore this book and series. It’s such a memorable and suspenseful read with truly wonderful characters and prose. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, do yourself a favour and pick up a Tana French novel.