25 August 2014

Books: The Likeness By Tana French (2009)

The Likeness is Irish author Tana French’s follow-up to her debut bestseller, In the Woods. While I actually think this is a better novel, it still seems a bit overlong and slow. 

It’s been six months since the events of the previous book and Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover and to put her life right. She has moved out of Murder Squad into the Domestic Violence, and is hoping that this switch will make her life quieter and make her burgeoning relationship with Detective Sam O'Neill go a bit smoother –even if she can’t fully make a commitment to him or her new career.

But in the end, it’s Sam who gets her back involved in a murder case, one involving the stabbing death of a female college student. And while she’s puzzled at first why Sam called her, it becomes clear to Cassie when she sees the girl, her past is about to return in a most unwelcome sort of way. The young dead women’s name is Lexie Madison, which turns out to be a name Cassie used when she was an undercover cop years before joining the Murder Squad. Plus she also bears a striking resemblance to Maddox.

With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie's real identity, Cassie's old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn't fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim's identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

As she is drawn into Lexie's world, Cassie realizes that the girl's secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students live in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie's growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk.

The first part of the book, and arguably the slowest chunk, details Cassie preparing to go undercover at Whitethorn House, a manor outside Dublin and close to town called Glenskehy (and in most procedural shows these days would be quickly taken care of in a montage scene). The folks who live around the manor and the town don’t like the five people who’ve taken up residence there:  paternal Daniel (who inherited the house from his uncle, who equally was not liked by the folks), handsome Rafe, the oddball Abby, and easily rattled Justin. 

While the books plays out like an elongated episode of the Sarah Michelle Geller series The Ringer married with today’s TV procedural with a dash of Agatha Christie (every one of the four have stereotypical quirks and dark past, they’re also generally unlikeable as well, which is a Christie cliché) added for good measure, it’s dull pace undermines the plot –which while hyper-realistic, still stretches the credibility factor. While French appears to focus more on character development over plot manipulation (there is certainly no surprises here), it could’ve been more successful if The Likeness was a tighter ship –mostly the first hundred pages could’ve been trimmed to a few chapters. 

Still, her prose is strong and you end up liking Cassie more than In the Woods. Her dialogue is strong, and very realistic (I like characters who act like everyday folks instead speaking and doing things like they are characters in a book) and that really saves this book.

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