The Likeness is the second book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I reviewed the first book In The Woods a few weeks ago. You don’t have to read In the Woods to enjoy The Likeness but the back story about the characters is a benefit. I strongly encourage you to read In the Woods first even though I think The Likeness is much better. This review contains slight/minor spoilers for In the Woods and The Likeness but I do not think they will prevent you from enjoying either book.
Tana French focuses her second novel on Cassie Maddox, who was a central but not major character from In The Woods. Cassie has left the murder squad after the disastrous Operation Vestal and joined the domestic violence unit. Cassie’s flailing about in her life at this point. Grieving the loss of her relationship with her best friend Rob. Adjusting to her relationship with her boyfriend murder detective Sam, Cassie muses:
I don’t remember a whole lot about that period; I appear to have bought a couple of truly depressing sweaters, the kind you only wear when all you really want is to curl up under the bed for several years, which occasionally made me wonder about the wisdom of any relationship I had acquired around the same time.
The action of the story begins when Cassie receives a disconcerting phone call from Sam asking her to come to a murder scene. When Cassie arrives she’s stunned to see the victim who could be her double. Cassie’s old boss Frank, an undercover detective, is at the scene as well. Frank’s there because the ID on the body is for Lexie Madison. Lexie Madison isn’t real. Lexie Madison was Cassie’s undercover identity several years earlier. Frank bullies Sam into partnering with undercover, and bullies Cassie into becoming Lexie Madison again to try to solve the murder.
The dead Lexie was a graduate student in English at Trinity College and lived with four friends, Daniel, Justin, Rafe, and Abby. The dead Lexie’s friends and roommates are told that Lexie has been found horribly wounded and may or may not live. They are denied their requests to visit her in the hospital as her condition is far too touch and go. A week later, they are told that Lexie has recovered enough to return home but that she should be treated with kid gloves as her condition is still serious and because she has short-term memory loss. Cassie steps into Lexie’s life with the sole intention of finding her killer.
For the rest of the book, French takes the reader on a journey of discovery in every sense of the word. Yes, Cassie does discover who the killer is, but discovers more about herself, her needs, and the importance of belonging. The dead Lexie’s friends make their own discoveries about themselves and the impossibility of avoiding change.
French sets up a scenario that should be impossible to believe. Cassie should not be able to fool the dead Lexie’s friends. The likelihood of Cassie having a doppelganger is slim, the reason for her existence never explained, and the chance that the doppelganger should end up on Cassie’s doorstep using Cassie’s undercover alias are infinitesimal. Yet I willingly accepted this fiction. I felt sympathy for Cassie nearly every step of the way. I found myself cheering for the insular world/family that these graduate students had built for themselves and grieving at its ultimate destruction. I understood Cassie’s fierce desire to somehow live in the dead Lexie’s world. I think this assignment uncovered a longing Cassie had spent her entire life trying to sublimate, one that was suddenly bubbling up to the surface since she had lost Rob. French gives us the background we need about Cassie’s childhood and personality when we discover Cassie was orphaned as a young child. French writes:
But children are pragmatic, they come alive and kicking out of a whole lot worse than orphanhood, and I could only hold out so long against the fact that nothing would bring my parents back and against the thousand vivid things around me, Emma-next-door hanging over the wall and my new bike glinting red in the sunshine and the half-wild kittens in the garden shed, all fidgeting insistently while they waited for me to wake up again and come out to play.
I got the distinct impression that neither Cassie, nor the adults in her life, realized the extent to which Cassie was truly alone. The way she misses Rob was like a punch to the gut.
I would have sold a limb to have Rob there for just one instant, raising a sardonic eyebrow at me behind O’Kelly’s back, pointing out blandly that the swap would never work because the dead girl had been pretty. For a viscous second I could have sworn I smelled his aftershave.
I love French’s painterly way with words. Some of my favorite passages include:
He was somewhere in his fifites, with a slumped back and watery blue eyes, and he smelled of wet uniform and loser.
I hate nostalgia, it’s laziness with prettier accessories.
. . .it’s hard to be edgy when you’re full of lemon chicken.
Towards the end of the book, one of the characters references the Spanish proverb, Take what you want and pay for it says God. At the end of the book, I was left questioning if what the characters in this story took was worth the price they paid.
Tana French is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. I rate this book a 5 and am looking forward to the next installment of The Dublin Murder Squad.