Book Review : The Likeness
Tana French’s second novel, set in Dublin, Ireland, has a fairly traditional beginning for a murder mystery novel. A murder is committed and the detectives swarm in to investigate the crime. So, “The Likeness” begins when the dead body of a young girl is found. However what is unsettling about this particular murder, is that the murdered girl, Alexandra Madison, looks exactly like Detective Cassandra (Cassie) Maddox, and her name is that of an identity that Maddox created and assumed in her work as an under-cover agent.
Now, Cassie has no twin that she knows of, and the “created” identity – that of Alexandra or Lexie as she is called - was created for the sole purpose of police undercover work, and never used again. Cassie Maddox is now off Undercover and working Domestic Violence, but agrees to go back undercover as Lexie (the police makes it appear like “Lexie” recovered from her stab wounds) to try and sniff out the murderer.
Lexie is (or was) a student and shares a house, Whitethorn House, with 4 other students. The House has it’s own story, and the students who live in it have their own mysterious pasts. It is obvious, upon some police research, that they all share some sort of common bond, are close-knit (almost like a family) and appear to be clique-ish to the outside world. It is also obvious that the four know Lexie pretty well, and Cassie in her masquerade as Lexie will have to be on her guard always. Apart from the fact that the police need to find Lexie’s murderer they also need to find out who Lexie was, and how she came into being, as a “fictional” character.
This novel is unlike any that I have read in this genre. For a murder mystery this has more than it’s fair share of pop psychology. French weaves her characters lovingly, little details and subtle nuances, make this novel an engrossing read. The characters in the novel are described in great detail, we know of their habits, their likes and dislikes, and their personalities. The fluidity of her prose and the almost lyrical quality of it is something I’m used to seeing in more of a “literature” style of book. Her style of writing is quite unusual in this usually pprosaic genre, in that the words pour out until you’re enveloped in atmosphere; you can see and feel what the protagonist is feeling – so beautifully done is it. French describes the story from only one point of view – Cassie’s, but does it so effectively that you can almost see the characters for yourself. Her words suck you in, draw you into the story, and into Cassie’s head.
The plot of this novel is unusual to begin with – and that spikes the interest. What keeps up the interest level is the captivating quality of the prose. Going undercover again, and pretending to be Lexie to Lexie’s friends and house-mates (and deceiving them) is emotional upheaval for Cassie. The situation is also dangerous since the murderer is still at large, and might try again. Plus Cassie has her own demons to vanquish.
Cassie Maddox, along with Detective Rob Ryan (mentioned here but not an active character) also starred in French’s first novel, the Edgar award winning “In the woods”. However the books do not have to be read in order, since they are their own separate tales. And although there are several mentions of Rob and Operation Vestal, (which happened in the previous book) they do not affect this one.
Emotional tension, the hint of hidden secrets, and Cassie’s unexpected warmth for the foursome and their way of life, makes this an interesting tale. “The Likeness” is intriguing but slow-paced, taking it’s own sweet time to reach climax. It is a tribute to French’s skills that she can confidently tell a slow, languorous tale, and have us hanging on her every word. “The Likeness” is enticing – even if murder and a hint of the macabre isn’t your cup of tea.