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The Likeness by Tana French

I believe I've actually mentioned this book before. Oh, yeah, here it is. I didn't really review it there, so I feel justified in revisiting it, if only because I, fresh off my awesome experience rereading In the Woods, had to reread The Likeness IMMEDIATELY, which should tell you how addictive French's writing and characters are to me. I'm working really hard to get an advanced copy of her new one, Faithful Place, which should be easy considering my circumstances but is in actuality insanely difficult, it turns out. Le sigh.

The Likeness picks up a few months after In the Woods leaves off (actually, they have slightly overlapping timelines, but whatever). Detective Cassie Maddox has left the Murder squad and moved to Domestic Violence in the hopes of escaping the trauma of her experiences in In the Woods (I'm trying to go for NO SPOILERS here, so lots of this is going to be intentionally vague). But she can't entirely leave them behind, of course; like all good tortured characters, they follow her around like her own shadow, making her jumpy and nervous and haunting her in her sleep. She's in a relationship with a Murder detective (I'm going to call him Detective X, because he's a character in In the Woods and I don't want to tell you whom, just in case you end up reading the first book), who one day calls her to a crime scene. When she gets there, she realizes why he's acting so weird: he thought the victim was her.

You see, years ago, before Operation Vestal (the In the Woods case), before Cassie was even on Murder, she was an undercover cop going by the name Lexie Madison. She attended Trinity College Dublin in order to infiltrate an extensive drug operation and got pretty close to one of the main dealers before he stabbed her in a frenzy of meth and paranoia. Cassie got sewn up and was offered her assignment of choice, which she took: Murder. Now her alternate identity has returned, full flesh and bone, and has been found--stabbed--in a tiny run down cottage in Glenskehy, a ghost town outside of Dublin. The girl is wearing Cassie's face, an almost virtual double, and using the Lexie Madison name. After much understandable hemming and hawing, Cassie agrees to infiltrate this other Lexie's life in a joint investigation run by Detective X and her old boss, Frank Mackey (Faithful Place follows him post-Operation Mirror, the name of the The Likeness case).

Since Lexie Madison is an invented person, it stands to reason that this Lexie is a fabrication as well. They know nothing real about her, only that she came on the scene a few years ago, became friends with an extremely codependent and closed-off group of post-docs who all live together in a crumbling old mansion on the Glenskehy outskirts called Whitethorn House, and for some reason pissed someone off so much that they stabbed her. Cassie is completely drawn into the little world that Lexie had built with her friends. Daniel, Abby, Rafe and Justin are a tight-knit band of weirdos, but they're seductive, interesting weirdos nonetheless, and the more time Cassie spends with them, the farther she sinks into their private, enchanted world than is good for her or for her investigation.

French's ability to show the way in which Cassie is slowly drawn deep into their world is one of her greatest achievements here. Detective X, who is overprotective of Cassie as truly in love boyfriends tend to be, doesn't understand why Cassie is so obsessed with Lexie, just because they have the same face, but to Cassie it's more important than that--this nameless girl took over her old identity, so to Cassie it's as if someone she created out of thin air has come to very real life. She's shaken by this, but also, after what she's been through, seduced by the possibility of sloughing off her old, battered life and slipping into a beautiful new one, free of baggage and bad memories. She envies Lexie, who has by all accounts gone by many names in many countries and never let anyone hold her long enough to trap her.

It's extremely rare that a writer can follow up a brilliant debut novel with one that is equally as impressive, mostly because it's so difficult to capture what was unique about your first work and imbibe the next book with something similar--but not exactly the same. Instead, French didn't try; she took a brilliantly realized character and fleshed her out even more, gave her her own trauma and story and let it unfold from there. It's a stunning achievement, really, if you think about it, and I have very high hopes for her next book.

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  1. Anonymous LQ | 5:27 PM |  

    I really wanted to read this book! I was reading something else at the time and forgot about this one, but if it's as good as you say, maybe this will be my next?

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