21 May 2012
The Likeness (Tana French)
In The Likeness, the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad novels, our narrator is Cassie Maddox, who transferred out of Murder in the emotional aftermath of In the Woods. She's working in Domestic Violence when she's called to a crime scene by her boyfriend, Detective Sam O'Neill, and is shocked to discover her old boss from Undercover, Frank Mackey, is also there. But it soon becomes clear why: the dead woman is Cassie's physical double, and her Trinity College ID bears the name Alexandra Madison--a persona Cassie and Mackey invented years ago when Cassie infiltrated a drug ring at the University of Dublin. And Mackey views this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for any detective--he's convinced that they should pass the incident off as a non-fatal stabbing and install Cassie in Lexie's life, to investigate her murder from the inside. After initial resistance, Cassie realizes she can't pass up the chance either; she's bored in DV, and she feels responsible for this woman who died bearing her face and a name she created. (And, the autopsy shows, a child.)
Whoever Lexie originally was, when she stole the identity of someone who never existed, she used it to--of all things--pursue a Ph.D. in literature. She lived near the abandoned cottage where she was found in the former manor house of Glenskehy, with four other grad students, so it's to Whitethorn House that Cassie is sent, armed with a mental dossier of all the information she and Mackey could glean regarding this incarnation of Lexie Madison, as well as a wireless mike hidden by bandages. Her roommates--Daniel, Justin, Abby, and Rafe--are fiercely loyal, a little odd, and clearly hiding something. Or somethings. (In this, there are echoes of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, though I find found French's foursome more likeable). But the more Cassie lives with them, inhabiting their intertwined lives, the more she finds herself half in love with the whole thing: the house, the countryside, the improvised family the five have formed. Gradually, her objectivity starts to wane; she hides vital clues from Frank and Sam; she starts to imagine just taking this life that's been given her, living out her years in Whitethorn House.
The Likeness is somehow even better than In the Woods--and I loved In the Woods. This despite having a frankly implausible premise; I can see how it might be a dealbreaker for some readers, but I just shrugged and moved past it--after all, there's no such thing as the Dublin Murder Squad, and that doesn't bother me. Once again, she takes a familiar trope--Undercover Gets Too Close to Her Case--and makes it much more. Once again, it's a deep study in character, identity, and friendship--beautifully written, well plotted, and often heartbreaking.