March 7, 2009
The Likeness by Tana French
Finished on 2/27/09
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)
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!