Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Likeness: Tana French

The Likeness (2008) is the sequel to Tana French’s debut novel, In the Woods. That book featured two detectives in the Murder Squad in Dublin, Ireland, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. In The Likeness, Cassie is now working in Domestic Violence at police headquarters, but a unique opportunity arises for her to go undercover. A woman bearing the identification of Lexie Madison is found dead; the woman cannot be Lexie Madison because that was an invented identity that Cassie used when she worked in the Undercover division. The woman is Cassie's double, and Cassie agrees to take her place at her residence, where she lived with four other undergraduates. A complex premise and one that at times was hard to accept.

I like the structure of the Dublin Murder Squad series. Rob Ryan and Cassie are the two main characters in the first novel. Only Cassie is featured in The Likeness (book 2), and she is working primarily with Frank Mackey of Undercover. In the next book, another detective from book 2 is featured. And so on. In The Likeness, there are references back to the previous case, but knowledge of that book is not necessary to enjoy this one.

I read this book almost a year ago, but I still remember how much I liked it. I felt like the story strained my disbelief a bit, but it was so suspenseful and well-written that I was pulled into it. I liked the characters, and that is helpful in this type of book where you spend so much time with them.

The Likeness does have elements I usually dislike. I don't care for really long books. In the edition I read, this one is 466 pages. Long but not atrociously long. I do think it could have been pared down a little, but I enjoyed every page of it.

I have never cared for stories about undercover assignments, even on TV or in films. They are too stressful for me and too many things can go wrong. This one had the extra added stress that Cassie was pretending to be someone that her housemates had been living with for months, whom they interacted with everyday. Yet I still enjoyed the story ...

What I do like about the two books I have read so far in this series is that the character exploration is just as important as solving the mystery. Yes, I cared who did it, but that isn't what kept me reading. I liked all the characters so well, even though they were young, immature, and had their faults, that I did not want any of them to be the culprit.

Cassie narrates this story which makes it even more personal and emotional. Here is a quote:
I don't tell people this, it's nobody's business, but the job is the nearest thing I've got to a religion. The detective's god is the truth, and you don't get much higher or much more ruthless than that. The sacrifice, at least in Murder and Undercover —  and those were always the ones I wanted, why go chasing diluted versions when you could have the breathtaking full-on thing? — is anything or everything you’ve got, your time, your dreams, your marriage, your sanity, your life. Those are the oldest and most capricious gods of the lot, and if they accept you into their service they take not what you want to offer but what they choose.
Good quote from the review at The New Yorker:
Most crime fiction is diverting; French’s is consuming. A bit of the spell it casts can be attributed to the genre’s usual devices—the tempting conundrum, the red herrings, the slices of low and high life—but French is also hunting bigger game. In her books, the search for the killer becomes entangled with a search for self. In most crime fiction, the central mystery is: Who is the murderer? In French’s novels, it’s: Who is the detective?
See other views by Moira at Clothes in Books and John Grant at Goodreads.


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Publisher: Penguin Books, 2009 (orig. publ. 2008)
Length:  466 pages
Format:  Trade paperback
Series:   Dublin Murder Squad, #2
Setting:  Dublin, Ireland
Genre:   Mystery



16 comments:

  1. My least favorite French because I could never buy into the idea that her friends wouldn't know her. Still she is so very good.

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    1. I found that premise difficult also, Patti, but I got interested in what was happening to Cassie during the assignment. I did like the first book better. And looking forward to the third one.

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  2. I agree with all you said here. I really like Tana French's books and also like that she changes her protagonist from book to book, while giving us more info about more minor characters in previous books. My favorite of her books is the 3rd. And I agree that Cassie's assignment was a bit hard to swallow and believe. However, I chose to ignore that and enjoy getting to know more about her. The quote you shared regarding 'who is the detective?' is quite apt and very accurate, in my opinion. I'm ready for the next book by her. Hope she's working on it.

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    1. The good thing about taking so long to get to this one, Kay, is that I still have four more to read. I hope I like the third one as well as you did.

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I agree with you about French's talent as a writer. I have to say that this one strained my suspension of disbelief. But at the same time, French does ratchet up the suspense, and she does a fine job here with atmosphere.

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    1. The book was a joy to read, Margot. I still don't like books that long, but I wasn't about to give up on it. All the characters were interesting.

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  4. The length of these books keeps me at bay. I do have three of them on the shelf. I need to just jump in.

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    1. I know what you mean, Peggy. The reason it took me so long to get to this one was the length. And just now I am reading another book (Blackout by Connie Willis) that is nearly 500 pages long. I am liking it a lot but I had to talk myself into reading it.

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  5. Haven't read this one yet. I've read so many negative reviews. about it not being believable. I plan to read it someday. --Keishon

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    1. I will agree with criticisms that it is an unbelievable premise, Keishon, but I rarely give up on a book, and French's writing is so good I did not have any problems finishing it, even with the length.

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  6. I read In the Woods when it came out, Tracy, a Father's Day gift, and liked it a lot. But I agree with Patti that the premise is hard to swallow. You almost persuaded me to give a try tho.

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    1. Maybe you would like later ones better, Matthew. I plan to read Faithful Place soonish.

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  7. A wonderful review, Tracy. I've never read any of French's books though I've heard lots of good things about them. I think maybe I'll give this one a try. Lately I seem NOT to be reading any modern day authors but concentrating on vintage, but now and then I'll give a contemporary a try. :)

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    1. Thanks, Yvette. I don't usually want to read really new mysteries, although I do make some exceptions. Which is why I am usually so behind in current series. If you try this one or another of French's books, I hope you like them. Others say they work fine as standalone books, although there is some connection from one to the next.

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  8. Excellent review, pointing out the problems and huge successes of the book! The central impersonation in the book is totally unconvincing and unbelievable - but I could not put the book down, it completely consumed me, I was just dying to know what would happen, what had happened, and how it would pan out...
    I am the opposite of you - I love impersonations and undercover oeprations, partly because they are so unreal. I love the way the problems arise and the protagonist has to solve them....

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    1. This is the kind of book that I get into and can't put down, Moira. And it was your reviews of this and other books in the series that motivated me to get back into the series. And I am glad I did.

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