Author: Tana French
Publication Date: 7/17/09
Blurb (GR): 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.
Impressive. Very impressive. I think now, after reading two of Tana French's novels, I finally know what a good psychological thriller is. It is something that goes beyond simple figuring out whodunit, something that delves into the minds investigators, victims and killers, something that focuses on exploring the motives and states of mind rather than logistics of the crimes.
It is the psychological part of The Likeness that won me over, because, let's face it, the premise of this book borders on implausible. Cassie Maddox is recruited to go undercover and impersonate a murder victim, who not only, coincidentally, looks exactly like Cassie, but who also had stolen Cassie's last completely made-up undercover identity of Lexie Maddison! What are the odds of that? Plus, Cassie has to live in a house with 4 friends of the dead girl! Is it possible at all? To learn and assume someone's identity so well that even the closest friends don't see the difference?
Luckily, French knows her stuff. I totally bought the story in the end. It is staggering how much work it takes to prepare for undercover, how much psychological effort it takes to stay in character, and how hard it is not to completely succumb and merge into this character. I loved how the book portrayed the enormous difficulty of Cassie's assignment, I loved uncovering bit by bit the intricacies of Lexie's identity, I loved getting to know Lexie's friends and witnessing their strange bond.
What disappointed me in the beginning was that I had expected to read more about Rob Ryan from In the Woods. No luck. The Likeness is Cassie's and only Cassie's story. I got over it pretty quickly though. I am now looking forward to reading the 3rd book in the series - Faithful Place - which, as far as I know, will focus on Frank, Cassie's undercover boss introduced in this novel. I kind of like the idea of a series of books which stays fresh because of the narrator changes.
The other complaint is that at times the story seemed too wordy - too much conversing, too much description, I just wanted it move along faster. But then, on the second thought, these elements most likely made Tana French's books such enchanting, atmospheric, disturbing reads. So maybe this is not a complaint at all...