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Book Review: The Likeness by Tana French

Book Review: The Likeness by Tana French

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“Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.”

The Likeness is the second novel in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I read In the Woods earlier this year and really enjoyed it. The Likeness focuses on Detective Cassie Maddox, who was Rob Ryan’s partner in In the Woods. The story picks up a few months after Operation Vestal from Rob's story. Cassie is now working in Domestic Violence as a detective, and she’s dating Detective Sam O’Neill from Murder. When Sam is called in on a case, the victim looks just like Cassie. When it turns out that the victim was living under one of Cassie’s old undercover identities, Lexie Madison, the case takes quite an interesting turn. Cassie’s former undercover boss, Frank Mackey, shows up and determines that Cassie should infiltrate Lexie’s life and see if she can figure out who killed Lexie, while pretending to be Lexie. Sam is absolutely mortified at Mackey’s suggestion, but Cassie feels like it could help her get over Operation Vestal and get her back into doing good detective work.

Cassie and Mackey throw themselves into learning everything about this version of Lexie Madison. Lexie was in grad school at Trinity College in Dublin and lived with four other grad students at Whitethorn House in Glenskehy, a small town outside of Dublin. Their group was extremely close, entirely too dependent on one another. Their group immediately rubbed Mackey the wrong way, and even Sam thought something was off. Mackey spends a week training Cassie to be Lexie. Mackey tells the house group that Lexie has come out of a coma and will return to the house. While Mackey is sure Cassie infiltrating the house is a perfect plan, Sam is not so sure, and even Cassie doesn’t agree at first. But once Cassie gets to the house, the adrenaline of an undercover case sinks in, and she finds herself drawn to being Lexie.

As Cassie pretends to be Lexie, her housemates are simultaneously relieved and concerned for her. When Cassie acts like she cannot remember what happened, it seems to soothe and annoy Lexie’s friends. Daniel is the clear leader of the group, while Abby and Lexie clearly had a close relationship. Rafe is the good-looking one of the group, but has a lot of baggage. Justin is the most sensitive of the group and seems like the weakest link of the group. The group always saw itself as a family, with Lexie playing the role of the baby sister. Cassie struggles at first to get the right Lexie attitude, but blames some of the hiccups on the coma and the stab wound. But as Cassie continues to live as Lexie, why she is really there seems to fade away, and her two lives seem to blur together. 

Cassie tries to get answers out of her housemates, but no one wants to talk about that night or even the week following. One of the house rules is no pasts, but as Cassie starts to get close to the group, cracks emerge and things come to light. At the beginning of the investigation, Sam and Mackey focus on outside possible suspects like Daniel’s cousin and local Glenskehy villagers. But as weeks pass, it becomes more clear that the answer to the investigation lies in the house.

I loved the atmosphere of The Likeness. It reminded me so much of The Secret History, which is one of my all-time favorite books. Both novels feature an outcast group of friends who are entirely too close and when murders occur, the groups are forever changed and shaken. Both novels are more character-driven than plot-heavy, which is interesting since they both contain murders. The Likeness is unique in its undercover storyline, yet both Richard from The Secret History and Cassie find themselves pulled into the dynamics of these weird co-dependent groups.

I generally have mixed feelings on mysteries and thrillers, but I have really enjoyed the two Tana French books I have read. She has a gift for writing such compelling lead characters, who are completely flawed, but still believe in their work as detectives. Cassie’s struggle with her job as an undercover detective and her role as Lexie highlights French’s ability to write such real human characters. I am excited for the next book in the series, Faithful Place, which follows Frank Mackey. He is such an interesting part of The Likeness; he is a great detective, but his methods are very unorthodox. Hopefully Faithful Place lives up to its predecessors.

I absolutely loved The Likeness. It is a slow novel, but the characters and the ending completely pay off. It is one of my new favorite books. I give The Likeness 5 stars!

What other literary mysteries and thrillers do you enjoy?

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