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The Likeness Paperback – May 26, 2009
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*Starred Review* French’s debut novel, In the Woods (2007), introduced Dublin Murder Squad detective Cassie Maddox and earned unanimous critical praise. Cassie is back, and French has written another winner. The body of a young woman is found in the ruins of a old stone cottage in a dying village outside of Dublin, and the dead woman and Cassie are virtual twins. Lacking suspects or leads, the victim is reported by the police to be injured but alive, leaving Cassie to step into the dead woman’s life as a Trinity College graduate student and the housemate of four other students. Despite the tensions of being undercover, Cassie quickly learns to love her quirky, insular housemates and her new life in a once-grand house, even as the Murder Squad investigation yields little. Someone stabbed her doppelganger to death, and Cassie must find the killer. The Likeness has everything: memorable characters, crisp dialogue, shrewd psychological insight, mounting tension, a palpable sense of place, and wonderfully evocative, painterly prose. In the Woods was an Edgar Award finalist; this one just might go one step further. --Thomas Gaughan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“[Tana French] aces her second novel. The Likeness [is a] nearly pitch-perfect follow-up to her 2007 debut thriller, In the Woods.”
“Tana French puts a clever twist on every lonely child’s fantasy of leading a parallel life when she creates an alternate identity for her detective in THE LIKENESS... Cassie is a character — the eternal lost child — you can really care about.”
--New York Times Book Review
“The writing is glorious, and the characters and drama so compelling”
--The Boston Globe*
“Savor French’s turns of phrase and simmering suspense until the prospect of finishing shuts all distractions out.”
--The Baltimore Sun
“The verve of her writing illuminates the uncanny experience of stepping into someone else’s life. [The Likeness is] a sophisticated thriller.”
--The Dallas Morning News
Praise for Tana French
“When you read Ms. French — and she has become required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting — make only one assumption: All of your initial assumptions are wrong”
—The New York Times
"Tana French is the most interesting, most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years."
—The Washington Post
"[Tana French] inspires cultic devotion in readers…most crime fiction is diverting; French's is consuming."
—The New Yorker
“To say Tana French is one of the great thriller writers is really too limiting. Rather she’s simply this: a truly great writer.”
“French is a poet of mood and a master builder of plots.”
—The Washington Post
“One of the most distinct and exciting new voices in crime writing.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“French does something fresh with every novel, each one as powerful as the last but in a very different manner. Perhaps she has superpowers of her own? Whatever the source of her gift, it’s only growing more miraculous with every book.”
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Top customer reviews
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.
She's alsc quite skilled at the odd detail that reverberates, triggering internal monologues that illuminate her characters. And she creates fully fleshed, real characters with both likable and unlikable qualities, most of who earn our empathy (except for believable nonces, like Detective Quigley, a minor character who is a farcical nememsis of Frank Mackey)
Finally, she creates compelling plots, who-dunnits that I find keep me turning pages late into the night.
Now for the bad stuff. Occasionally, French's writing turns a shade of purple, overwitten and self-conscious, and it can get a bid tedious. Secondly -- and this bothered me the most in The Likeness -- her reliance on coincidence. I was disappointed that French didn't even attempt to provide a plausible explanation for how dead Lexi Madison managed to find undercover cop Lexi Madison's identity and then assume it in a way that could persuade the venerable Trinity University to admit her to its PhD program in English.
Even as the plot was sweeping me along, I never quite fully suspended my disbelief on this point, and it got in the way of my enjoyment. I could accept the notion that Cassie Maddox and dead-Lexi could be dead-ringers for each other, as remote as the chance might be, and that by studying dead-Lexi's phone camera videos she could pick up on dead-Lexi's mannerisms. But it sent me over the edge of credulity to believe dead-Lexi could find Cassie's undercover alter ego. I wish French had offered some plausible explanation, and maybe it was implied somehow and I missed it, but I don't think so.
It's a shame this otherwise clever and sensitive novel left me with a note of fundamental dissatisfaction.