Review – The Likeness

Summary: Tana French astonished critics and readers alike with her mesmerizing debut novel, In the Woods. Now both French and Detective Cassie Maddox return to unravel a case even more sinister and enigmatic than the first. Six months after the events of In the Woods, an urgent telephone call beckons Cassie to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who is this girl? A disturbing tale of shifting identities, The Likeness firmly establishes Tana French as an important voice in suspense fiction.

Note–while this is the second book in The Dublin Murder Squad series, all books are technically standalones. There are very few references to the first book, but there should not be any spoilers in here.

DISCLAIMER: This review will be a consolidation of all my messy feelings as oppose to an objective review.  Because when it comes to this book, the last thing I can be is objective. I am utter goo after reading this.

I want to be Cassie Maddox. I want my life to somehow transform so that I may be dropped in the middle of Ireland in the police force with all her hang-ups, messes, and problems and take that life. This is utterly perfect and ironic considering the premise of the book—where Cassie works as an undercover detective pretending to be the (still alive) murder victim to determine who the killer is.

Before I start commenting on the plot or the writing or the mystery, I must acknowledge French’s talent when it comes to writing and crafting characters. She is the queen of building three-dimensional, interesting yet inherently flawed and absolutely messed-up characters. I bow before her majesty and immense talent.

Frank, Sam, Daniel, Abby, Rafe, and Justin—they are some of the major supporting characters in this book. And let’s not forget the murder victim, Lexie. I will not mind reading a book featuring any of them as the protagonist, in any period in their life and exploring any of their issues or problems, even if it is something as simple about which groceries to buy for the week. (And okay, I know her third book is about Frank, so the wish does sort of come true.) But this is not even the whole cast of characters that appear in the book, as there are still a good number of minor characters that make their own mark in the story.

But of course, Cassie is the main focus here. The amount of thought and effort French put in to build Cassie as a character is amazing, particularly when Cassie already has received a decent amount of spotlight in French’s first book. Back then I have met her as Rob’s sassy and highly competent partner who is passionate about her work as well as their great friendship, but French elevates the character to a whole level here. She really digs into Cassie’s character to explain exactly who Cassie is and how Cassie reacts to the events in the first book. And for those who are waiting for Rob’s appearance, be prepared to be disappointed. He is mentioned in passing whenever there is a good reason to reference him, but like real life, people move on and Cassie has a whole other set of problems to deal with. I also love how the fallout of the first book continues to affect Cassie in this book as she leaps to impersonate Lexie since people are affected by choices from other people all the time. I think it is also a major testament to French’s talent that she can make me forget about Rob’s problems and his character here as I spend the whole time worrying and wondering if Cassie will make it out of the case emotionally and mentally intact.

The other highlight of the book is all the strong relationships that Cassie has with the various supporting characters. All of them feel very real and messy as bonds between people ought to and often are. I particularly enjoy how she slips into the Lexie’s life to interact with the Daniel, Abby, Justin, and Rafe and how they all interact as a little island of their own. It adds an eerie charm to the whole premise since nothing is supposed to be peaches and roses as there is a murder investigation going on, but the genuine interactions between all the friends are touching. I almost wished that status quo can continue even though there are some inherent flaws in the friendship. Somehow French manages to make the eccentric bunch to be charming in a touching way, and I really wish that things can end up alright for the fabulous four (yes I am nicknaming them).

I found the plot to be weaker than the first one, because as cool as the premise is it is highly unlikely that it will occur in real life. The ramifications of a detective pretending to be the murder victim and for the police force to actively conceal a murder to catch the perpetrator sounds too great for any police force to consider it seriously, not to mention that the probability of having two people who are completely unrelated look exactly the same to pass as dopplegangers is slimmer than winning the lottery. There are also other implausible moments in the book, particularly when it hit the 70% mark and there is that feeling that the investigation ought to end or take a different direction. I personally have already figured out who the perpetrator is about halfway in the book, although this book is not solely a whodunit or even a whydunit. The story itself is interesting as it peels back the layers to Cassie and who she is, but again the strength of the book obviously lies between the interactions between all the characters as oppose to the events. What really sticks and is the heart of the story for me are how each person’s identity is created and the price that one is willing to pay to maintain the choices that one has made in one’s life.

Another plot device/relationship that I found unbelievable is how conveniently Cassie starts thinking like Lexie to the point of making several discoveries that are crucial to the case.  At first I put it down as part of Cassie’s education (she is a psychology major in Trinity) as well as her experience working as an undercover detective & her years on the Murder Squad, but as the book continue I really want to roll my eyes every time she finds another clue via ‘What will Lexie’ do. Now, I have never studied psychology before or have actually researched how accurate profiling is (I assume it is a scientific procedure that is reliable since police use it) but I think it is awfully convenient and lazy to establish the connection between Lexie and Cassie. This also leads to an element of creepiness because I interpret it as Cassie follows Lexie’s thought pattern quite easily, so Cassie is actually similar if not identical to Lexie because she might have done the same. It hits too close and too much at the doppelganger point.

Regardless of the minor flaws in the book, I wholeheartedly love every moment of it. The ending blow me to pieces even though I see almost everything coming and that reveal is a long one (not in a good way either), but the emotional tidal wave is spectacular and I cannot ask for anything better. As usual, it is not a happy ending by any standard, but it is a very satisfying if heartbreaking ending for so many characters.

Cassie Maddox and this gang of characters will be real to me forever. I cannot ask for more in a reading experience, and I am once again in Tana French’s debt for her amazing ability to create such a lovely world. If only someone will take notice and make a movie or a mini-series now.

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