Review

The Likeness

by Tana French

In her award-winning debut novel, IN THE WOODS, Tana French
demonstrated that she has an uncanny ability to draw disparate
elements from her characters' past into the present --- elements
that have quietly festered for years until they suddenly and
dramatically affect the present. THE LIKENESS continues this theme,
though in a totally different manner.

Dublin, Ireland detective Cassie Maddox, who had a secondary but
important role in the events of the first book, returns, not broken
by the events of that novel but badly if quietly bent. She has
transferred from the Murder Squad to Domestic Violence
investigations; her relationship with Rob Ryan, her former
colleague and best friend, has been rent asunder, apparently
irrevocably; and she is still cautiously feeling her way through a
romantic relationship with fellow officer Sam O'Neill. It is
O'Neill who initially draws Maddox into the event that forms the
crux of THE LIKENESS, that being the discovery of a body in a small
working class subdivision on Dublin's outskirts.

The murder victim is a young woman, a college student who shares an
estate house with four others. What draws Maddox into the
investigation, however, is that she bears an almost identical
likeness to Maddox and is going by the name of Alexandra Madison,
which Maddox herself used some years before when she was assigned
to undercover duty. Frank Mackey, Maddox's former supervisor on the
undercover squad, concocts a plan that is half-mad and
half-brilliant: spread the word that Madison was grievously
wounded, but not murdered, and send Maddox back into Madison's life
with the intent of seeing what, and who, turns up. O'Neill
vehemently opposes this tactic, and Maddox herself is extremely
reluctant to become a part of it. Yet there is much about Madison
that attracts and repels her, ultimately giving way to an incessant
curiosity about this woman who has come to such an unfortunate end,
who has her face, and who, by way of and for reasons unknown, has
taken her (undercover) identity.

Maddox accordingly immerses herself in the details of Madison's
life, then jumps into it, moving into her home, interacting with
her roommates and attending her college classes. While there is the
occasional rough spot --- laid off to the trauma of Madison's
injuries --- Maddox is able to do an entirely plausible job of
assuming the dead woman's identity. It seems that Maddox is not
wrapped all that tightly, and the roots of her emotional chaos were
set long before the trauma of IN THE WOODS. She focuses not only on
the "who" of the murder but how Madison came to take over Maddox's
former undercover identity, where she came from, and who she was.
It is the latter that is arguably the biggest draw for
Maddox.

Madison's four roommates shared an almost communal relationship
with her, one that Maddox, following in Madison's shoeprints, is
able to slip into almost too well, in effect temporarily losing
herself in the dead woman's identity to the extent that Maddox's
loyalties to her job and her roommates become both blurred and
divided. Whoever killed Madison, meanwhile, may be waiting to
finish the job. But what Maddox is not aware of is that someone
knows she is not who she claims to be and is playing a game of cat
and mouse --- or should that be mice? --- with her, seeking to
protect the murderer and return matters to the way they were before
Maddox met her untimely end. THE LIKENESS concludes with a new spin
--- yes, at this late date --- upon the classic drawing room
denouement, one that is not only memorable but also brilliant in
its execution.

Tana French's grasp of her material belies the fact that THE
LIKENESS is only her sophomore effort. The subject matter that she
explores is dense and deep, and only a few authors --- John le
Carre comes to mind most readily --- feel confident enough to tread
into it. It is not something one can phone in or fake; French, as
she demonstrates here, is the real deal. Combining elements of
police procedurals, dark psychology and classic mystery, THE
LIKENESS is a keeper.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 12, 2011

The Likeness
by Tana French

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143115626
  • ISBN-13: 9780143115625