The Likeness by Tana French (@tanafrench)

This is my third Tana French book since July, but it’s actually the second in the series. I liked this book a lot. Not as much as the other two but it was still very good. I think part of the reason I didn’t like it as much is because I kept getting interrupted while reading it. I was about 100 pages in when I received an advanced copy of French’s newest book. To meet the timeline, I had to put this one aside. Then when I came back to it, it took me a little while to get back in the groove. Then life happened and I wasn’t able to read a lot. And then I was too tired to read at night (which is when I get a lot of my reading done). It was a long process from start to finish. Also, the book is super long.

Once again French’s writing is spot on. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through it. She weaves these complicated relationships in slow, intricate waves. The book picks up some months after the end of In the Woods (as always, if you haven’t read the spoilers tag on the post, it’s your own fault). Cassie has moved to the Domestic Violence unit in the wake of Operation Vestal. She’s deeply unhappy with the work and her new partner. She’s still dating Sam, and although she says she’s happy in the relationship, she doesn’t totally seem to believe it. At the beginning of The Likeness, Cassie is called out to a crime scene. She shows up in a nicely pressed suit looking all business. This is not the Cassie from before. The one who dressed exactly the way she wanted to. Who drove her little Vespa. Who was mistaken for a much younger person and didn’t care. The old Cassie was vibrant and energetic. She left her vibe everywhere she went. Now she’s forced herself to fit the mold. She looks the part. She talks the part. She’s the officer everyone wants her to be. She’s definitely lost her spark. She is dying on the inside.

The initial question is this – why is Cassie even being called out to this crime scene? She doesn’t work murder anymore. And Sam wouldn’t be the one calling her for a DV case. And why the hell is Sam so freaked out? Why is there so much build up to this little cabin in the countryside? Then we get to see the victim and it all makes sense. She looks exactly like Cassie. Not one of those huh, that person looks kinda like so and so until you really look at them, but so much like her that her boyfriend seriously thought it might be her until she answered the phone. It also explains why when Cassie arrives on scene she finds Frank Mackey – her old boss from undercover. Turns out the dead girl not only looks like Cassie but has been living under the identity Cassie created for her final UC case (Lexie Madison) – the one where she was stabbed. So, was this version of Lexie stabbed, or was it someone finishing a job from many years earlier. Someone actually after Cassie.

And here’s where the problem with this book comes in – the premise is so completely unrealistic. You really, really have to suspend your disbelief to get behind the novel. You have to be able to believe that Cassie Maddox is so similar in likeness to Lexie that she can fool the dead girl’s friends into thinking she is Lexie. While she’s living with them. Not just that they look the same, but that she’s learned Lexie’s mannerisms so exactly – from a bunch of cell phone videos. Sure, there were a couple moments where they are uncertain, but they brush it all. Because the other option is so out to lunch. That there’s someone else that could be faking it. French asks us to buy into the exact thing she counts on the roommates not believing. It’s a very fine line she’s walking here. If you can’t get behind this idea, you will not be able to get through the book. I had a couple issues with it at the beginning, but eventually, I got into it. This is completely because of French’s writing skill. She creates Cassie so believably that you’re convinced that she’s going to be able to pull this off. It helps that we’ve seen such a dramatic shift in Cassie from the last book to this one. She is clearly searching for her identity, and this gives her an easy out. An out where Cassie finds a comfortable home where she occasionally forgets that she’s not actually Cassie.

So, how did this strange girl come to live in Dublin and end up in a life that Cassie had created? This girl that looks just like Cassie. A girl Cassie has never met. A girl with a slightly North American accent – exactly where Lexie was supposed to have gone when she left her UC assignment. Not only is this girl living under the name Lexie, she’s living the life they had created for Lexie. She’s at the school Cassie had said her girl was going to attend. She’s doing a degree. She used Lexie’s old records. It all seems like too much coincidence. How did this girl just stumble into that life? Turns out that explanation is actually pretty simple. She’d been running all her life. She eventually landed in Ireland. She ran into a silly girl that knew the original Lexie and asked if she was doing her degree at Trinity. She walked the new Lexie right into a life that fit her almost perfectly.

So, the story itself focuses on this incestuous group of friends who live in an old manor house just outside a tiny town a couple hours away from Dublin. The town hates the family that owns the home, Daniel’s family – there’s this whole complicated history of Ireland portion of the novel that’s actually pretty interesting – and they hate the friends as a result. They will not speak to them. There’s literal shunning. They vandalize the house with paint and rocks. They blame them for the death of the village. Lexie’s wandering around at night inevitably had to lead to something. But was her death caused by the original Lexie’s life, the animosity of the town, or house full of people who are too close to one another? That’s Cassie’s responsibility to figure out.

What is it with these stories about British college students who live in these weird old houses with these creepily close friends and act like the outside world doesn’t exist. With these weird old fashioned mannerisms and musical tastes? There are a large number of these stories (The Bellwether Revivals really sticks out). I’ve read a lot of them. I’m really close with my friends, don’t get me wrong, but these characters are like weirdly close. It’s off-putting. But in Cassie’s current mindset, you can kind of see why it’s so appealing. She has just lost her best friend. The guy with whom she found her balance. They knew each other’s thoughts and actions instinctively. Now that’s gone. Now, she’s got soft, gentle Sam, but he’s just not Rob. Now, she’s in with these people and seeing the same relationship she’s just lost. She falls so deeply into it that she loses sight of the fact that she’s a cop. She goes so far as to remove her wire a few times in order to hide the fact that her cover has been broken. Daniel has figured out who she isn’t.

He’s kind of known since the very beginning, you know, since he’s the one that made sure Lexie was dead. Here’s where we get into French’s endings – those ones that you either accept or piss you right the hell off. As I’ve mentioned before, I like her endings. She doesn’t give you everything. We find out that Justin was actually the one who stabbed Lexie, but we never find out why. Cassie never tells the rest of her team. They only hear the exchange over the mike. They can’t see that Rafe is speaking to Justin. Daniel knows this and openly says that he is the one that did it. But does he do it out of some great need to protect his friends? To maintain this fabricated life that was falling apart even before Cassie stepped into Lexie’s life. They were only staying because Daniel had some weird hold over all of them – especially Abby. Daniel clearly – clearly – has a criminal background. This guy is too good at manipulating people and controlling situations – at sitting through and covering up someone’s death – to not have had experience with this before. Somehow. But once again, French teases us with the knowledge but never gives up the answer. She leaves so much of her books in the reader’s hands. I love the way she does this, but admittedly not everyone will.

My one issue with the first two books in the series is that they are needlessly long. I mentioned this in my review of In the Woods, and The Likeness is even longer. It’s almost 700 pages long (in the trade paperback edition). There’s too much of the happy, lovely, weirdness within the house. It could easily have been cut back without impacting the strength of the relationship between Lexie (Cassie) and her housemates. The length of this book was part of the reason I had such a hard time getting through it. But the next book is way shorter, so maybe French has worked it out.

I’m going to address something that seems to be an issue with readers of the series. People seem crazy attached to Rob and Cassie. There are still comments all over the newest book about how it’s unfair that Cassie and Rob aren’t back. That people are only still reading hoping they will return…Yes, they were awesome together – until they weren’t. Yes, they had a wicked dynamic. Yes, they got to work an intensely interesting case. But… remember the ending where Rob turned into a giant d-bag after he and Cassie slept together? Remember how Cassie is now engaged to Sam? Their dynamic doesn’t exist anymore. Another book set up with that format would be dishonest to those characters. And this series is about the Dublin Murder Squad. And neither Cassie nor Rob works in that department anymore. This one snuck in because Sam works for murder and the Cassie look alike thing. No one even knows where Rob is working right now. He’s in bureaucratic limbo. He has to be; he fucked his career. Cassie can’t handle the murder team anymore. Cut French some slack. These characters have done their due. They got us in. Now we get to explore some other people. That being said, I’ve had about as much of Frank Mackey as I can handle right now. I’m taking a break before Faithful Place. The Frank in The Likeness and The Secret Place are pretty similar. I can’t imagine the Frank in Faithful Place will be super different. I’ve reached my Frank cap for a little bit.

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