Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Likeness, by Tana French

In The Likeness, Irish author Tana French picks up the sidekick character from her first book, In the Woods, and makes her the narrator of a highly improbable story. Cassie Maddox was seriously damaged--professionally and psychologically--from the fallout of the mistakes she and former partner/best friend Rob Ryan made in investigating the murder of a 12-year-old girl. She has transferred to Domestic Violence, where she is miserable but pretending not to be.

Then Cassie's boyfriend Sam catches the case of a murder victim who looks exactly like Cassie and is using the fake name Cassie used in her years doing undercover work. Cassie's former boss in Undercover convinces her and Sam that they should tell people the victim (Lexie Madison) is not dead and have Cassie assume her identity, moving in with the four grad students Lexie lived with. What? The idea strains credulity, as does much of the plot that follows.

Not surprisingly, Cassie (orphaned as a child and brought up by a loving but rather uninvolved aunt and uncle) finds the excessively close-knit, family-like bond that the five friends have created attractive--she actually enjoys spending all her time in the group, despite the fact there's a good chance one of them killed her doppelganger. When the mystery finally unfolds, French once again leaves several threads hanging.

French clearly has an interest in how broken people find relationships that make them feel whole, as well as in how people deal with their darker impulses. She also can put words and sentences together beautifully. These are serious and interesting subjects; since (in my view--obviously, since her books are bestsellers, many disagree), however, she doesn't have the gift of plotting a good mystery/thriller, I wish she'd try her hand at a serious novel that deals with those subjects.

Favorite passages:
If I had ever wanted a house, though, it would have been a lot like this one. This had nothing in common with the characterless pseudohouses all my friends were buying, shrunken middle-of-nowhere shoeboxes that come with great spurts of sticky euphemisms ("architect-designed bijou residence in brand-new luxury community") and sell for twenty times your income and are built to last just till the developer can get them off his hands. This was the real thing, one serious do-not-fuck-with-me house with the strength and pride and grace to outlast everyone who saw it. Tiny swirling flecks of snow blurred the ivy and hung in the dark windows, and the silence of it was so huge that I felt like I could put my hand straight through the glossy surface of the photo and down into its cool depths.

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