Fiction-paperback; Hatchette Books Ireland; 696 pages; 2009.
The Likeness is a hugely entertaining if slightly preposterous crime story set in Ireland starring Detective Cassie Maddox, first introduced to us in Tana French‘s startling good debut novel In the Woods.
This time Cassie’s taken her career down a notch: she’s no longer working in the Murder Squad but is enjoying the regular 9-to-5 grind of the domestic violence division. But when a woman is found murdered in a ruined Wicklow cottage, Cassie is brought in to do some very special undercover work. In a strange twist of fate it turns out that the victim is her doppleganger. She even has the same name Cassie used when she did some undercover work early on in her career — Lexie Madison.
The idea is that Cassie pretends to be the murdered woman so that she can return to the house Lexie shared with four other post-grad students — Daniel, Rafe, Justin and Abby — all of whom are under suspicion for her murder.
Despite the ludicrous idea that it would be possible to pick up where the original Lexie left off without anyone realising the switch, The Likeness comes across as a fairly solid if not truly believable psychological thriller come who-dun-it. It does, however, take its time getting to the crux of the matter, as French spends almost 200 pages explaining how Cassie prepares for her undercover assignment. But once she’s in the house, the narrative kicks off into high-gear, exploring the cultural and social tensions within and without the tight-knit group of five. The pace is pretty much relentless from then on.
At 696 pages this is a perfect holiday read, because you only need take one book with you. It’s not highbrow literature by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a good meaty read that will have you guessing all the way to the very end. I very much enjoyed it, especially the tinges of Barbara Vine and Nicci French which give it that special page-turning quality.
My only quibble — and it’s a small one — is the romance between Cassie and a fellow detective that underpins the main narrative. While it might serve to make the characters appear more human, more rounded, it actually comes across as a writer trying too hard to appeal to a generalised chick-lit type audience. And, for me, the sappy romantic ending almost made me choke on my toast, ruining what had otherwise been a pretty fabulous (in all sense of the word) read.