three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
Tana French
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The LikenessIn this sequel to her debut, Edgar-winning Dublin novel In the Woods, Tana French creates a high-concept mystery that pivots on a bizarre identity theft.

The Story: Irish police officer Cassie Maddox is recovering from a traumatic undercover case that left her with nightmares and multiple stab wounds. She’s working the Domestic Violence beat and staying away from Homicide. Just when she thinks she’s out, though, she is pulled back in: a body turns up, and according to the ID, the corpse’s name is Lexie Madison—an alias Cassie created when she went undercover all those years ago. Strangely enough, the body is the spitting image of Cassie. Soon, Operation Mirror is underway, with Cassie posing as the miraculously healed Lexie and infiltrating an eccentric, tight-knit group of Trinity College graduate students.
Viking. 480 pages. $25.95. ISBN 0670018864

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Cassie’s consistent, single-consciousness voice, with its warm and confidential immediacy, is perhaps the novel’s chief asset. … The novel is exceptional, and readers with an affinity for whodunits authentically set in Ireland will not be disappointed." Katherine Bailey

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ms. French gets away with this superstretch for two reasons: First, the good old literary tradition of ‘the double;’ and second, the verve of her writing, which illuminates the uncanny experience of stepping into someone else’s life. … There are … minor implausibilities along the way, but you are willing to forgive these because of the dreamlike vividness of Cassie’s narration and the inherent strength of the mystery." Robert Cremins

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"French is a fine writer and gives Cassie lots of room to roam through fascinating, complex questions of class, identity and relationships. While that roving dallies a bit long in parts—Cassie, for example, takes 78 pages to make up her mind on whether to take on the role of the dead woman, which, obviously, you know she’s going to do—it’s an intriguing trip." Peggy McMullen

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Ms. French resists genre conventions defiantly enough to have written a long, rambling book, one that is more interested in character revelations than in ‘Aha!’ moments about the plot. … But Cassie herself remains a strong enough character to sustain interest, even if many of her observations … have a vague, hazy quality" Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"For The Likeness, [French] has brought back detective Cassie Maddox and fashioned a plot that harks back to both Donna Tartt and Wilkie Collins. … I’ve never had a reading experience quite like this one: being fascinated by a book not only for its considerable merits but also because of its striking lack of connection with the real world." Dennis Drabelle

Critical Summary

Without the doppelgänger motif, The Likeness could not exist—and critical opinion depended, in part, on whether or not reviewers bought into it. Suspension of disbelief aside, most enjoyed the setting (an Irish country house where Lexie’s clique lives), and several praised French’s ability to evoke the dreamy nature of the Irish countryside. She also ratchets up the tension as Lexie-Cassie’s roommates become increasingly suspicious, while Cassie herself grows enamored with this clannish group of friends. The deeper themes of personality and identity certainly add heft. Some compared The Likeness to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, another tale of college intellectuals unbound by conventional morality, but they added that French definitely has a flavor all her own.