The Likeness by Tana French

French, Tana. The Likeness. New York: Viking, 2008.
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

(Note: Books are rated from one to five smiley faces, one being a book I didn’t like very much, and five being a book I loved).

WARNING: Spoilers here (but I promise not to tell you whodunnit).

Friends of mine had told me that this one was even better than French’s Into the Woods, another book I loved, and they were right. I read it in record time, pretty much ignoring everything else I’d been reading. That’s not like me. I’m the sort of reader who usually has at least four books going at any given time and picks one up according to my mood. Somehow, my mood must have been very dark for a number of days, or something, because I didn’t much care about any other books until I got through this one.

What was even more unlike me was to read something like this, something that was completely implausible, and to keep on reading. Normally, I’m the one saying, “Oh, come on. That’s absurd. It could never happen,” and abandoning the book (or finishing it grudgingly).

Not so with this one, and that’s French’s genius. She can set up something so impossible, the sort of thing that mere coincidence would walk right by without a second glance, and get me to think, “Oh, who cares?” She did it with In the Woods, and she did it even more so with this one. Her stories are so good and the characters so believable in their complexity that she makes me turn page after page until I finally get to the end.

Here’s the implausible set up: Cassie Maddox is a young woman who was almost killed a number of years ago while working undercover, posing as a college student named Lexie Madison. She left that to work in Dublin’s Murder division, which is where we first met her in In the Woods. That case turned out so badly and shook her up so much she is now working in Domestic Violence (good thing I’m not a cop. I can’t imagine DV being a “nice change” from Murder).

But then, she gets a call. Frank, her old boss from undercover, and Sam, her (relatively) new boyfriend, are at the scene of a murder. They ask her to join them. Turns out the murdered young woman is a dead ringer for Cassie. Not only that, but the victim’s  i.d. proves that she has been living under Cassie’s pseudonym. Her name was Lexie Madison.

All right. How probable is that? Someone who looks exactly like you shows up dead, using your undercover name, only about an hour’s drive from where you live. Hang on, though, it gets even more improbable. Frank’s big idea for solving the case is to pretend Lexie isn’t dead, for Cassie to take on her old name and to go live with the four other graduate students with whom Lexie has been sharing a house. There’s one more twist. These aren’t mere housemates; they are a self-created family. They share everything, do everything together, and have no other friends. Cassie has a week to study everything she can about Lexie, and then she’s going to move in with them, and nobody is going to know?

Yeah, right. My college roommate and I lived together for four years. Even during that first year, if someone had suddenly moved in, looking exactly like me, talking exactly like me, moving exactly like me, I’m pretty sure that within 24 hours, she would have figured out it wasn’t me. Cassie moves into this house in which one of the members already suspects she isn’t Lexie. And yet, it takes him much longer than 24 hours to trip her up and finally get her to tell the truth. This is a brilliant guy with an extremely sharp mind. Yes, up to a point, you can claim he was playing her but only up to a point. Even if he were playing her, he wouldn’t have been able to let it go on that long.

Still. It just doesn’t matter at all. This book was like reading really good fantasy. I suspended all disbelief almost immediately, wanting nothing more than to find out how it was all going to end. Who was this Lexie? Who had killed her? Why? The answers, when finally revealed, satisfied (especially since I’d already suspended all disbelief), and along the way, I came to really like Cassie, who was more sympathetic and understandable here than I found her to be  in In the Woods.

I also enjoyed discovering whodunnit. I’d had the wrong person pegged, for a completely different motive, from the moment Cassie moved into the house. I was happy to be slowly but surely proven wrong. Finally, it doesn’t happen often that I find myself getting a little choked up while reading a mystery, but I did while reading this one. Tana French has a new one out. I can guarantee I’ll be reading it soon.