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The Likeness Paperback – May 26, 2009
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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My first problem with the book was that its premise is just so unbelievable. It strays from the thriller concept straight into the fantastical world of science fiction.
But as I got further and further into the plot, that ceased to bother me. The characters were so interesting that they moved the story along and built suspense until it finally reached the breaking point.
That unbelievable premise, briefly, is this: Cassie Maddox, one of the detectives on the Dublin Murder Squad that we met in Into the Woods, has now moved on to Domestic Violence after the debacle of the Woods case. Her beloved but now estranged partner, Rob Ryan, was moved into a desk job.
Even before she worked on the Murder Squad, Cassie had worked in the Undercover division. While there, she and her boss has created a persona for her called Alexandra (Lexie) Madison and she had worked undercover using that name.
Now, Cassie is called to the scene of a murder in the countryside outside of Dublin where she finds Detective Sam O'Neill, another of her former colleagues on the Murder Squad and now her lover, and Frank Mackey from Undercover, the person who created Lexie Madison all those years ago.
When Cassie is shown the dead body, she is shocked to see a woman who looks very much like her. The murder victim's name, according to her ID, is Alexandra (Lexie) Madison.
It develops that this Lexie Madison was a Ph.D. candidate at the local university and she lived in a house in the countryside, near where she died, with four other Ph.D. candidates. She had lived with them for four years and they were all close friends, functioning very much as a family.
Now Lexie is dead and the police have no clues as to the identity of her murderer.
But Cassie looks SO much like Lexie that Frank Mackey, the undercover guy who has a streak of sadism, says why don't we keep her death a secret - just say she was injured - and then put Cassie in her place to play Lexie once again and flush out the murderer?
And Cassie agrees to this!
And all the four friends back at the big house, the friends who have known her for four years and know all of her quirks and habits accept her! They believe she is Lexie!
Can you see why a reader might have a problem with this?
This is a very strange and self-contained group of people who live in a very strange house and provide all of each other's needs for love and friendship and family. The group is not liked or accepted by their neighbors in the village. In fact, they are actively hated and are the victims of vandalism, graffiti, and intimidation. It's very much an us-against-them situation.
Their group provides a feeling of belonging for these outsiders and outcasts. Even Cassie/Lexie finds herself seduced by the warmth of the group. There's nothing that really transcends that feeling, and as the story progresses, we see that that is what it is really about: Paradise found and, eventually, paradise lost.
Tana French builds her story and the tension slowly and, up until late in the book, I was still very much in a quandary as to who killed Lexie. And, maybe even more importantly, who was Lexie?
In the end, all - well, most anyway - is revealed and we are left wondering what Tana French is going to titillate us with next.
Yes, the story does require a certain suspension of disbelief in various aspects - the idea that the central character could successfully pass herself off as a girl who has been (unbeknownst to her housemates) murdered, let alone get sufficiently up to speed to pass as a doctoral student in liberal arts. But if you can get past that, as I could, it's a wonderful read. Richly layered, superbly detailed, thought-provoking and occasionally delightfully humorous.
One random example of the writing... This is the main character (the "likeness") sitting in the dark in the abandoned house where the murder victim died:
"...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... 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."