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[329] The Likeness – Tana French

” But this girl—On her side is a bad, bad place to be. Her housemates were on her side all the way, and if Mackey’s right, she was selling the lot of them down the river, not a bother on her. Her fella over in America was on her side, he loved her, and look what she did to him. The poor bastard’s a wreck. ” [15:284]

After the traumatic events in In the Woods (which I have yet to read), Cassie Maddox vows never return to Murder Squad. But a most unusual case once again dislodges her from the current beat in Domestic Violence. The reasons for the sudden switch are grimly self-evident once Cassie has a look at the victim: the girl is Cassie’s double, who looks like the splitting image of the detective, and carries an ID identifying her as Lexie Madison, an alias Cassie herself used years ago when she worked the undercover. This victim is obviously an identity thief, but why?

At the behest of Frank Mackey, her acerbic former undercover boss, Cassie is sweet-talked into trying something that Frank sees as the opportunity of a lifetime. Without telling the public that Lexie’s stab wound is fatal, Cassie will go on living Lexie’s life until the killer is lured out to finish off the job. Sharing the charming ramshackle old Whitethorn House with Lexie’s strange, tight-knit group of university friends who live in a bizarrely intimate camaraderie, she is taught about the things Lexie liked, although it’s infeasible to learn her identifying traits, and most impossibly, her emotions and feelings.

Lexie was both incapable of thinking about the past, and incapable of thinking more than one step into the future. This may be one of the few things you overlooked. Not your fault; that level of simplicity is heard to imagine, and also hard to describe. It was as startling as a deformity. [19:334]

It turns out the most entertaining element of The Likeness is not the revelation of whodunit, but Cassie’s combative relationship with her undercover boss as she infiltrates the secrets of Whitethorn House, which is inherited by one of the men in the clique. Instead of adopting the conventional approach to a suspenseful setup (first half of the book) that would make one Whitethorn resident or a Glenskehy villager a suspicious murder figure, French indulges in a lengthy look at the house’s domestic arrangement (second half of the book) and the resident’s emotional bond for Lexie. The result is an imbalance between a tightly executed first half, with ramped up suspense and a loosely but rambling second half with flimsy psychology. How could grad students act like 15-year-olds?

Our entire society’s based on discontent: people wanting more and more and more, being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their decor, their clothes, everything. Taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life, never to be satisfied. [8:165]

The occasional quasi-philosophical asides that justify the group’s living in a hermetic realm out of the modern world do pique me, but they don’t seem to fit right into the story very effectively. I almost feel betrayed to be taken on a merry-go-around ride and come back with no more than just extraneous, irrelevant details that add nothing to the frenzied denouement. This book would have achieved the same effects much more succinctly without all the rambling details and circumvention. No doubt Tana French is a bright writer but this one is not up to par of my expectation, at least not the second half of the book.

466 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]