Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Likeness by Tana French

Protagonist: Cassie Maddox
Setting: Glenskehy, a village on the outskirts of Dublin
Rating: 5.0

From the opening line (“Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House”) reminiscent of du Maurier’s Rebecca ("Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"), I was enthralled with this book, part gothic, part psychological thriller and part police procedural.

Four years after Det. Cassie Maddox has left undercover work -- and her role as college student Lexie Madison -- a woman is murdered. Not only is she Cassie's exact double, but her I.D. says she is Lexie Madison. And so easily is Cassie swept into a twisted, deadly mystery -- who killed the new Lexie? Was it someone tied to an old undercover case? Or someone in the new Lexie's life? Cassie's old boss in undercover, Frank Mackey, talks her into becoming Lexie one more time -- going into Whitethorn House, a crumbling old manor where Lexie lived with four other college students.

Cassie knows it won't be easy, and it may even irreparably harm her relationship with boyfriend Sam. But the pull is strong. As Cassie says: “I don’t tell people this, it’s nobody’s business, but the job is the nearest thing I’ve got to a religion. The detective’s god is the truth, and you don’t get much higher or much more ruthless than that. The sacrifice, at least in Murder and Undercover -- and those were always the ones I wanted, why go chasing diluted versions when you could have the breathtaking full-on thing? -- is anything or everything you’ve got, your time, your dreams, your marriage, your sanity, your life. Those are the coldest and most capricious gods of the lot, and if they accept you into their service they take not what you want to offer but what they choose.”

Once entrenched as Lexie, Cassie finds that the villagers of Glenskehy have a longstanding dislike, even hatred, of Whitethorn House and its inhabitants. The house has been inherited by one of the students, and their outsider status doesn't endear them to the village. French interweaves the history of Ireland's landlord and tenant system into the plot.

French has hit all the right notes in this book: taut pacing, complicated characters and wonderful writing. Her debut novel, In the Woods, won the 2007 Edgar award for first best novel (although it had a controversial ending that I, for one, didn't like). The Likeness is far better.

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