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297 of 317 people found the following review helpful
There will be no spoilers in this review.

As in her first novel, In the Woods, Tana French has created another sensuous, lyrical, haunting, suspenseful story. Although it is considered a mystery, it is much much more than that. It is a story of identity in all its literal and metaphorical forms. It is a social commentary (but never sententious) and it is also about fear and flight and love.

Cassie Maddox and Sam O'Neill are detectives from In the Woods. Although Operation Vestal (from In the Woods) is mentioned several times, these books can be read in any sequence without ruining it for the reader. The setting is again Dublin, Ireland.

Cassie is the star attraction of this story as she goes undercover to live with four liberal arts doctoral candidates whose housemate, Lexie Madison, is found dead from a stabbing in an abandoned cottage. Lexie Madison looks exactly like Cassie, and the name is her last undercover alias, which adds to the mystery. The housemates will be told that she survived the stabbing.

It isn't necessary to give too many plot details. What is more important is the response from reading. This is a generous, gorgeous, thoughtful, poetic story. The tone is almost elegiac at times, especially during her descriptive paragraphs, and the author's use of the extended metaphor is prolific and often profound. At the end of the novel, I looked up hawthorn (the tree, flower, bush) on Wikipedia and had a chill run up and down my spine. Her descriptions, turns of phrase, elegant passages and graceful unfolding keep me fastened and fascinated. What I love about Tana French is that her novels are both character-driven AND plot-driven. She does not sacrifice one for the other. With most mysteries, I only read them once. But The Likeness can be read again just for the aesthetics. Also, there is no deus ex machina here. The story is excellently paced with a well-timed delivery of its climax.

Tana French is no lightweight, but she makes the story accessible to anyone who enjoys reading. She has that gift to appeal to a variety of readers-- even readers who look for largely escape mysteries. But this is not escape reading; it is the kind of reading that makes you ponder. It is philosophical and it echoes. It has shadows, swirls, hollows, heart,humanity, tension, suspense, whispers, hawthorn, hawthorn, hawthorn...

I look forward to the third book that Tana French is working on, with Frank Mackey (from The Likeness) as the main protagonist.
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180 of 203 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2008
Likeness is one of those off-kilter books that you love to read because the prose is stunning, but which fails completely as a novel. In order for French's plot to work you have to believe: 1)that an undercover cop could pass herself off as another person to a group of people who knew her "double" intimately, 2)that a person can go from being a hat designer to a PhD student in one year (transcripts? application process? recommendations?),3) that grad school students act like 15-year-olds (well, OK maybe that's not so far off the mark),4) that a trained undercover cop would keep important evidence (the diary) from her superiors, etc. etc. etc. I simply did not buy any of it. There were problems with the writing as well. I found the trendy post-modern "quotes" (Star Trek, Alice's Restaurant) disruptive. And those endless ambiguous, interrupted conversations hinting at dark secrets got old after a while. I wanted some resolution. Even the relationships between the characters were unconvincing. Was Cassie actually supposed to be in love with Sam? Why did Cassie want to be Lexi? Why did the villagers care so deeply about a woman who had died almost a hundred years earlier? In short, the premise was implausible, the book was over-written, and the psychology shaky.
French is a fabulous writer. I'm hoping that her third novel will be a charm.
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137 of 158 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2008
It's feckin' genius, that's what it is. I couldn't write a single sentence as well as Tana French if I started now and lived to be a thousand. And she wrote a whole book, two books, of them. Flawlessly. Word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, until the book is as perfect as it could be. It boggles the mind, it really does.

The first time I picked up Raymond Chandler, I knew I was in the hands of something profound and mysterious. I haven't had that feeling again for many years, till In The Woods, and even more powerfully, The Likeness.

Here's an Australian sheep rancher, talking about his daughter:

"But when she was nine, her mother had hemmorhaged, ...and bled out before a doctor could get there. 'Gracie was too young to hear that,' he said. '...I knew as soon as I told her. The look in her eyes: she was too young to hear it. It cracked her straight across.'"

"It cracked her straight across". That's the power of metaphor in the hands of a master. It conveys in a way that touches the heart what exactly happened, in the same way that Shakespeare would use metaphor and words.

It's a privilege to read Tana French, it really is. I feel only pity for the person who wrote of the unbelievable plot, I do. This book isn't about a plot, just as Chandler wasn't about plot, just as we don't read Shakespeare for the plot. Anyone can do plot; but to give feeling and life, undoubted life, to characters on paper, that is to marvel at.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 17, 2008
The premise of The Likeness--Detective Cassie Maddox (heroine of French's memorable debut novel, the Edgar-winning In the Woods) assumes the identity of a lookalike murder victim who herself assumed an undercover identity Maddox abandoned years before--certainly sounds absurd on the surface, but the author makes it work, and makes it work well. Once Cassie's (and through her, the reader's) logical objections to the scheme are overcome, French proceeds to deliver a masterwork of suspense, dropping her heroine into a dangerous, emotionally charged situation, where she is constantly aware that any or all of the people she's trying to deceive may wish her dead. The fact that the novel is written in the first person makes it all the more intense.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2011
I was deeply disappointed with this book. I really liked Tara French and found her previous book to be haunting and fascinating. I was thrilled to spend more time with some of the same characters, but I couldn't get more than a couple chapters in without becoming completely disenchanted. The storyline is just preposterous. And I'm someone who can stand a decent dose of fantasy or thinnly-stretched probability in my stories as long as the author truly sells you on it. The whole mysterious person who JUST HAPPENS to look EXACTLY like the protagonist so they can sneakily trade places just was not sold to me by Ms. French. She just blasts through it with barely a question on behalf of the characters so she can get to the meat of the story. Maybe that's because she's trying to minimalize how preposterous the plot is, but I found it simply too much to stomach. I think I could've handled an 'I have a secret long-lost twin who I thought was dead!' revelation more than just having two random people be identical enough to pass for each other and trick everyone that ever knew them intimately. So if you can get past the ridiculous plot, by all means dig in. If not, don't even bother.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2008
The extraordinary follow-up to Tana French's Edgar-winning "In the Woods," "The Likeness" beautifully combines the narrative and the lyrical, interspersing moments of transcendent illumination with leisurely confident story-telling that doesn't let you go for a moment. The language is wonderful, the characterizations are complex and believable, and the suspense builds to a climax that surely will soon be incorporated into "a major motion picture." French credits her readers with intelligence and taste, letting this book be read on many levels, from dramatic mystery to speculation on subjects like the guts and work that being loved take; the thought that in life you take what you want and then pay for it (though you don't know in advance what the price will be); the changing nature of social subversion (which used to be expressed through discontent and now takes the form of contentment); what happens to people and societies when group memory is lost. A wonderful mystery, but not just a mystery. Highly recommended.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2008
A year after the events in In The Woods, Cassie Maddox has an unheard of opportunity: A recent murder victim is her exact double, and even used an undercover alias that Cassie created years ago. Now, she can become the victim, stepping into her life and her friendship with a close-knit group of four students, to try and crack the case from within. The Likeness is strongly atmospheric, with an almost magical setting, a closely interwoven cast of characters, and slow, delicate suspense. It isn't an attention-grabbing book, but it is an intriguing, strongly constructed mystery, and I loved it. Enthusiastically recommended.

I picked up The Likeness because I read In The Woods and loved it--it was a dark and visceral book which captured me and simply would not let go. The Likeness is a different style of book. It still has a strong atmosphere, but that atmosphere is quiet, romantic, and almost magical (even though there's no magic in the book), building into slow suspense. Cassie enters an extraordinary life: a close-knit friendship whose apparent safety and strength seduces both Cassie and the reader; an old refurbished home which cocoons the occupants in a small, private world. Yet Cassie is in the middle of a murder investigation, and she is always in danger of being discovered or attacked; despite the utopian setting, the suspense builds: slow, delicate, insidious. It's a careful balance and, though it isn't as attention-grabbing as In The Woods, it makes The Likeness an intriguing and compelling read.

Meanwhile, French spins an intelligent mystery. There are some unbelievable moments (not just the coincidence of the shared appearance and alias, but that an undercover investigation like this would ever occur), but the twist and turns are realistic while still surprising and the final reveal is entirely logical--but also tense and frightening. French's writing style is strong: Cassie has a unique narrative voice, the story is well-paced, and the setting and characters come to life (although some characters have unrealistically strong and simplified traits). I loved In The Woods so much that I was almost hesitant to read The Likeness, afraid that it wouldn't live up to my expectations. While I still prefer In The Woods, my fears were for naught. The Likeness is intelligent and subtly nuanced, seductive and suspenseful, and a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it--and, despite being an indirect sequel, The Likeness stands alone and interested readers not need read In The Woods first unless they want to.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Tana French is a superb writer who never says in a paragraph what she can state in five pages. With enough plot for a short story, this acclaimed author has filled 466 pages with lengthy conversations and precise descriptions of everything under the sun, utilizing a prose that makes you beg for the comparative terseness of an Agatha Christie.

There's also the major plot point that one must swallow whole: a young woman is killed, and a detective, who lives nearby, is her identical, yet unrelated, twin. Why not substitute one for the other to discover the killer? Consequently, our heroine moves in with the dead woman's four roommates, none of whom notice the switch.

I found myself completing this novel more as a chore than an enjoyment. Possibly if The Likeness had not been billed as a mystery, I would not have felt I had been bilked out of time I could have better spent learning Dutch, baking a pie, or cleaning under my desk.

An example: "I switched off my torch and waited there, in the cottage, while Ned sloshed through the grass and found his way back to his studmobile and Panzered off towards civilization, the throb of the SUV tiny and meaningless against the the huge night hillsides. Then I sat down against the wall of the outer room and felt my heart beat where hers had finished beating. The air was soft and warm as cream; my arse went to sleep; tiny moths whirled around me like petals. There were things growing beside me out of the earth where she had bled, a pale clump of bluebells, a tiny sapling that looked like hawthorn: things made of her."

If you are fans of sentences that can connect warm cream, a sleeping behind, and flower-like insects, look no further than French. However, for a quick, engaging read, you must search elsewhere.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
First, I have to say I love Tana French's prose style. The words come rushing at you headlong until you're completely entwined in the textures and colors and lights of the world she's spinning. This book is no exception.

I'll also point out that I didn't even care that we don't know what happened to Rob in the woods in the last book. I see that confusion as intrinsic to Rob's character, and I was happy to let her leave it that way. An author who writes as fluidly as French gets lots of leeway from me. But even her lovely language couldn't hide the fact that this plot made no sense.

I was willing to believe that Cassie had a double. I'd even believe that the police force was willing to put weeks and weeks of dedicated resources and personnel into finding the murder of one lone girl without any pressure from the victim's family or political factions. (It'd be nice if it worked that way, after all.) And I was prepared to overlook all the ways a defense lawyer could take apart a case built with the assistance of someone pretending to be the deceased. (Maybe Irish courts don't have a problem with entrapment.)

But once Cassie was settled in the house, the plot went too far off the rails even for me. Once again, French embroiled Cassie in relationships based in arrested adolescence. Rob had an excuse, his emotional development was arrested by his childhood trauma, but these people *chose* to remain as pre-adolescents. I was more interested in why French likes this motif so much than the posturing of the four friends. Sure, the philosophizing about the nature of identity was fun, but couldn't redeem the jaw-dropping attitudes of everyone involved about the murder and the victim by the end of the book. Sam's the only person who came out of the whole thing with a shred of integrity.

Heather O'Neil does do a fabulous job narrating the audio.

I'll pick up the next one (surely Frank's a grown up and will be allowed to interact with other adults, right?) but this was a disappointment.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2010
I read the book, then I read all the reviews... and I started to doubt myself. I loved this book - it was pacy, unusual, I loved the characters and the feeling of warmth and 'home' Cassie feels. I didn't want it to end. However, having read the reviews, I have to ask myself whether the book really was ridiculous or not.
Yes, I suppose it was. I did think it was highly improbable that a group of close friends would not recognise another friend. In this sense, it was asking a lot of the reader.
But so many readers, like myself, gave this novel four or five stars, so something must have worked - and I suspect that they, like myself, loved the representation of the students. It was a warm, escapist atmosphere, reminiscent of Maeve Binchy perhaps. Wonderful for a rainy afternoon.
Incidentally, I took note of the reviewers who urged people to read The Secret History instead, and I could not have been more disappointed. High-brow and pretentious, I liked none of the characters and it had none of the warmth and spirit of this book, nor a likeable central character. I wanted to murder all of them.
Just one criticism - I am a bit sick of authors (male and female alike) who portray their female police officers as delicate, beautiful, enigmatic, yet still intelligent and feisty, with degrees and firearm prowess, never over the age of about 30 and never have children or are single parents. This sort of stereotypical description of your heroine is OK if you're Jackie Collins, but a UK crime writer? Can't the heroine be a normal woman?!
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