The Likeness by Tana French

“The Likeness is Tana French’s second crime novel. It isn’t, strictly, speaking a sequel her first, “Into The Woods”, and it isn’t necessary to read them in order, but there are links.

The main link is Cassie Maddox, one of the detectives at the centre of the investigation that went badly wrong in “Into The Woods”. As this book opens she has left the murder squad to work in domestic violence and is beginning to put her life back in order.

The plot kicks off when she receives an urgent call from her boyfriend Sam O’Neill, who still works in the murder squad. He asks her to drop everything and disguise herself and to visit a murder scene that has disturbed him. Why? The victim has a startling resemblance to Cassie and she is using the name Lexie Madison, the same name that Cassie used during a major undercover operation.

Lexie was one of five residents, all Trinity University students, living in Whitethorn House, a mansion inherited by one of the students. Frank Mackey, Cassie’s supervisor from her days in undercover, thinks the best bet for solving the Lexie murder case is to withhold news of the death from the public. This way, Cassie, armed with information from Lexie’s camera-phone, can pose as Lexie and perhaps get to the bottom of what happened.

Sam is unhappy but Frank is determined and, wanting a solution, Cassie agrees to go undercover again. She is dropped off at Whitethorn, where she is absorbed into the group. It is a strange group – tightly knit and with a seemingly perfect lifestyle and an absolute rule to make no references to past lives.

Cassie is drawn to the warmth and sense of family of the group and she becomes incredibly involved with the Lexie’s life. It even seems that at times she loses sight ofthe boundary between herself and Lexie.

The investigation and the mystery are straightforward but there is much more to this book than that.

“The Likeness” is about class divide and rural towns where the native population is outnumbered by wealthier incomers, about identity and what it is like to live in someone else’s shoes and, most of all it is about friendship and family. Can you cast off your past and build a new family built not on blood ties but on friendship?

Tana French writes beautiful prose and maintains a palpable sense of fear. The story unwinds slowly but it doesn’t let go.

The plot’s premise – that Cassie could assume the identity of a dead girl and her close friends would accept her – and the whole way the investigation was run were difficult to believe. But this book had enough good things about it for Tana French to just about get away with it.

I hope that one day she will write a book with a premise as strong as the other elements. Then she will be extraordinary!

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