March 7, 2009

The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French
2008 Viking
Finished on 2/27/09
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Product Description

The eagerly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times bestselling psychological thriller In the Woods

Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover. She’s transferred out of the murder squad and started a relationship with Detective Sam O’Neill, but she’s too badly shaken to make a commitment to him or to her career. Then Sam calls her to the scene of his new case: a young woman found stabbed to death in a small town outside Dublin. The dead girl’s ID says her name is Lexie Madison—the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective—and she looks exactly like Cassie.

With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie’s real identity, Cassie’s old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students live in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie’s growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk. Another gripping psychological thriller featuring the headstrong protagonist we’ve come to love, from an author who has proven that she can deliver.

Wow! What an amazing book! I was immediately drawn in at the first chapter and never once grew tired or bored with the plot or characters. This is one of the most engrossing, entertaining, and enjoyable books I've read in years. I read for hours on end after work. I read late in the night. I read before work and, yes, even at stoplights. I could not put this book down! Nearly 500 pages and French never once missed a beat. The pacing is remarkably even, the breathtaking suspense incredibly sustained. Perhaps, like Cassie, I began to feel a part of the cozy group of friends, anxiously awaiting a revelation about Lexie's murder. As the details were finally revealed in the closing chapters, I found myself holding my breath with anticipation, laughing out loud, not because the situation was funny, but because of nervous tension.

Reminiscent of Dennis Lehane's literary mysteries, The Likeness is much more than a whodunit. The characters are finely drawn, springing to life with believable dialogue. The odd lifestyle of these eccentric roommates isn't the only aspect of the novel that creates such taut suspense. Whitethorn House (a creepy rambling mansion in which the five English post-grads reside) and the surrounding countryside are very much characters in and of themselves.

Cassie, on her return to undercover:

It felt good, getting stuck into the case like this, like I was just a Murder detective again and she was just another victim; it spread through me strong and sweet and soothing as hot whiskey after a long day in wind and rain. Frank was sprawled casually in his chair, but I could feel him watching me, and I knew I was starting to sound too interested. I shrugged, leaned my head back against the wall and gazed up at the ceiling.


Going to sleep on your first night undercover is something you never forget. All day you've been pure concentrated control, watching yourself as sharply and ruthlessly as you watch everyone and everything around you; but come night, alone on a strange mattress in a room where the air smells different, you've got no choice but to open your hands and let go, fall into sleep and into someone else's life like a pebble falling through cool green water. Even your first time, you know that in that second something irreversible will start happening, that in the morning you'll wake up changed. I needed to go into that bare, with nothing from my own life on my body, the way woodcutters' children in fairy tales have to leave their protections behind to enter the enchanted castle; the way votaries in old religions used to go naked to their initiation rites.

I held my breath, worried that Cassie would eventually make a slight mistake in her character, blowing her cover and putting herself in danger.

This is the part I didn't tell Sam: bad stuff happens to undercovers. A few of them get killed. Most lose friends, marriages, relationships. A couple turn feral, cross over to the other side so gradually that they never see it happening till it's too late, and end up with discreet, complicated early-retirement plans. Some, and never the ones you'd think, lose their nerve—no warning, they just wake up one morning and all at once it hits them what they're doing, and they freeze like tightrope walkers who've looked down[...]And some go the other way, the most lethal way of all: when the pressure gets to be too much, it's not their nerve that breaks, it's their fear. They lose the capacity to be afraid, even when they should be. These can't ever go home again. They're like those First World War airmen, the finest ones, shining in their recklessness and invincible, who got home and found that home had no place for what they were. Some people are are undercovers all the way to the bone; the job has taken them whole.

I was never afraid of getting killed and I was never afraid of losing my nerve. My kind of courage holds up best under fire; it's different dangers, more refined and insidious ones, that shake me. But the other things: I worried about those. Frank told me once—and I don't know whether he's right or not, and I didn't tell Sam this either—that all the best undercovers have a dark thread woven into them, somewhere.

My husband enjoyed the book, yet felt the mystery fell short due to the unbelievable set of coincidences. And I suppose he's right, to some extent. After all, what are the odds that one's doppelganger just happens to be a police detective? I, on the other hand, was able to suspend disbelief and was thoroughly entertained. My copy of the book is littered with Post-It notes, marking passages I thought might reveal a hidden clue as I flipped back and forth, trying to untangle the intricate threads of a skillfully crafted web.

This is one of those compelling mysteries I continually found myself imagining on the big screen. The Talented Mr. Ripley, which also involves a complicated masquerade, lurked in my consciousness as I read. I can even envision Jude Law and Matt Damon playing Daniel and Justin. And, perhaps, Audrey Tautou as Cassie.

While The Likeness is a follow-up to In the Woods, I believe they stand alone and can be read in any order. It's early in the year, but as of today, The Likeness is my #1 read in 2009. And from what I've read, French is working on a third, this time narrated by Cassie's boss, Frank Mackey. Until then, I plan to pick up Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which has been compared to The Likeness. I'm ready for another gothic mystery!

Five stars, Tana!


  1. I have this one on my TBR stack, I really loved In the Woods. French is an excellent storyteller!

  2. You are causing me anxiety! lol

    I can't wait to get to both of French's books, but stuff keeps happening and so I have to wait. It is nice to have something to really look forward to, though.

  3. I knew you'd like this! I am also looking forward to French's future books - I like to read more about Cassie. You're right - this would make a great movie.

  4. Glad to read this. I need to read In the Woods soon. My husband read it a few months ago and liked it. Thanks for the great review!

  5. Anonymous6:35 PM

    Les, glad you enjoyed it so much. I've place my copy aside for a while. I'll come back to it again soon. We've talked about the concept of reading books at just the "right" time. I know I will love this book when it is the "right" time. Great review!

  6. I really need to get to In the Woods soon!

  7. I knew that I needed to read this book but after your awesome review I have to put it on the top of must-read list!! Thanks!

  8. Anonymous7:09 AM

    I have In The Woods in my TBR pile. There was a good piece about Irish crime fiction in the Irish Times last week (my Other Half regularly goes back to Dublin and bought the paper for me), in which Tana French was heavily quoted/featured. See

  9. Anonymous11:19 AM

    Great review! Now I can't wait to pick this book off my shelves!

  10. I loved this book and I also found myself imaging it on the screen as I was reading it. I like your casting choices.

  11. My copy of In the Woods arrived a couple days ago. I'm anxious to read it.

  12. I think I am going to have to borrow In the Woods sooner rather than later.

  13. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Ok, Les. I'm hooked. I just had In the Woods sent to my Kindle.

    Thanks for the recommendation.


  14. Kelly - You're in for a treat. I think this is even better than In the Woods!

    Joy - Get moving!! Don't wait!! :) At least you know you'll have a couple of winners to review in the coming months.

    Tara - I can't imagine anyone not loving it, especially if they enjoyed In the Woods. I hope the third book includes Cassie. I'm guessing it will since it's centered around Frank. I don't really care much for him.

    Mary - Glad you enjoyed the review. Yes, you need to read both books, ASAP. :)

    Kay - I understand the need to wait for the right time to read a book that's been so highly recommended. Nothing worse than being preoccupied and not getting the full enjoyment you'd hoped for. Thanks for the lovely comment.

    Nat - I can't remember if you've read this one or not. Definitely read In the Woods AND The Likeness. They're your kind of books.

    Staci - I doubt you'll be disappointed. French is a marvelous storyteller and you're in for quite a treat.

    Kimbofo - Thanks for sending the link! I enjoyed the piece and learning more about Irish crime fiction. Enjoy French's books!

    Stephanie - Hurry!! :)

    Katya - I don't know about you, but this is one mystery I'd be happy to read again, say, in another year or so. There's so much more to it than simply finding out whodunit.

    Booklogged - Lucky you! I can't wait to hear what you think. I'll bet In the Woods is one of those books we'll see everyone reading this summer.

    Marg - Definitely sooner!! And then you need to get The Likeness.

    Mary - You might want to get The Likeness in another day or two since you'll probably be anxious to read more by French once you've finished In the Woods. :) Enjoy!!

  15. I am just going to the library now to pick up Into the Woods!

  16. Oh me too! It is definitely a book I would reread and that's high praise.

  17. Just to let you know that I think your blog is great and that I gave you an award.

  18. Anonymous1:06 PM


    I just received the ARC of "Change of Heart" and wanted to thank-you so much.

    I am incredibly interested in "Revolutionary Road" by Yates and will want to read your review as soon as you post it. I read a marvelous review among the 200+ reviews that has encouraged me to buy the book.

    Also, I read "The Secret History" a few years back and if "The Likeness" is one half of that book it would have to be brilliant. "The Secret History" is on my top 5 list of all times. Makes me want to order "The Likeness" though I am not fond of mysteries.

    Your rambling reader friend;

  19. Marg - Let me know when you've finished! I'd love to read your review.

    Katya - Yes, re-reading is definitely high praise.

    Diane - Thanks for the kind comment and award. I'm quite honored.

    Gayla - I just read your comment and email, so I know you meant Handle With Care and not Change of Heart. I do hope you like the book. I find myself thinking about the plot every time I pass the book on a big display in our store. You'll have to me know your thoughts when you've finished.

    I finished Revolutionary Road last night and should have my review posted sometime this weekend.

    I have a copy of The Secret History and hope to get to it later this month. If it's in your all-time Top Five, it's bound to be quite a read!

    Thanks for commenting. You can ramble here anytime you wish!

  20. No, I haven't read either of French's books yet, but plan to. I have In the Woods, which I hope to read soon, and will get The Likeness once it's out in paperback. :)

  21. Yay, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one so much. I didn't think it could live up to In The Woods but it did. I'm really curious what she'll do with the third book. I admit Frank wasn't one of my favorite characters but I still have high hopes for it!

  22. I'm so glad to hear you liked this one too. I don't think I'm going to be able to wait for the paperback on this one.

  23. Nat - You're in luck! The Likeness is due out in paper on May 26th. Not too long to wait, is it?

    Iliana - I wasn't sure if it would live up to all the hype and I wasn't sure it would be nearly as good as In The Woods. Nice to be surprised on both accounts. :) Frank wasn't one of my favorite characters either. Who knows, we may grow to love him.

    SuziQ - Nah, go ahead and read it now. Disregard what I wrote to Nat! :)

  24. Can't wait to read The Likeness after In The Woods; The Secret History is in my top ten ever; I'd love to discuss that with you if you get around to it.

  25. Bellezza - You are in for such a treat!!! It's even better than In The Woods. I'll get to The Secret History in the coming months and we can chat about it once I'm finished. Can't wait.

  26. I've just found your blog through your interview with Bluestocking and when I saw that you'd reviewed the Tana French books- I looked them up.

    I read both books some months ago and have found that they are the kind of books that your mind returns to. Especially 'The Likeness'- I think that I, too, would want to live in that house and spend my days and nights in close companionship with others. Not those others but someone else.

    I love to read and am very happy to have found you- looking forward to reading more.

  27. Blackbird - Thank you for visiting my blog. I agree, French's mysteries are the type the stick with you much longer than your typical whodunit.

    I'm glad you found your way to my blog. I popped over to yours and have it bookmarked. I love the Seattle area (my dad and stepmom live in Kingston - they lived on their boat on Lake Union for 15 years), so it's fun to see all your lovely photos.

    Happy reading!

  28. I just finished this one yesterday! While I did really enjoy it, I wasn't as entralled as you. I think I'm going to send you an email because I have a few questions. Maybe you can help. :)

  29. Joy - I'll try!


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