SPOILER ALERT: This review of Tana French’s second book discusses Tana French’s first book, In the Woods, and some of its plot turns, so if you haven’t read the first book, don’t read this review.
Tana French is the mistress of ambiguity. In her follow-up to the critically acclaimed In the Woods, French again has created a story in which the reader might be left to wonder what really happened.
In the Woods famously ended with its major mystery still unsolved, and the symbiotic and charismatic relationship that Cassie Maddox had with her Murder Squad partner Rob Ryan in tatters. The Likeness picks up about six months later. Cassie now has formed a romantic relationship with Sam O'Neill, the third partner in the doomed Murder Squad team. She has shipped out of the Murder Squad and works in the domestic violence unit. Even though she has a companion and a job, Cassie has lost the life in which she was happy and sure of her direction, and she still has not come to terms with who she is now. Hovering in a state of ambivalence, she is waiting.
Sam, who is still with the Murder Squad, calls Cassie in a panic. He has pulled a case involving the death of a woman who is a dead ringer for Cassie. Her name, it turns out, is Lexie Madison. How is that possible, Cassie wonders, because that is the alias she used when she was working undercover as a young police officer. She and Frank Mackey, her supervisor at the time, created Lexie. Lexie is a figment of their imagination. How could Cassie’s invention and doppelganger be lying dead in a little town outside Dublin?
At first reluctant to become involved in another murder case, Cassie finally agrees to pose as Lexie, infiltrate Lexie’s life, walk in Lexie’s shoes, find Lexie’s murderer.
Lexie was a postgrad student in college. She shared a home with four other postgrads. If those last two sentences lead you to anticipate a college girl gone wild story or “Animal House Goes Irish,” then you’ve underestimated Tana French. Lexie and her friends were grown-ups, it appears. They worked on renovating their generations-old home, while studying esoteric literary topics. They were rarely apart and vibrated to the same note. In a world in which their age-mates are made of lighter, more transient stuff, Lexie and her housemates were serious about and committed to their communal living.
Cassie slides into Lexie’s life with surprising ease. She finds balm for her own problems among Lexie’s fey friends. Could one of them be responsible for murdering Lexie? Or is it one of the villagers who inexplicably holds the occupants of the house in high dudgeon? What if the killer was actually after Cassie and mistakenly found Lexie?
French’s lengthy book (466 pages) builds the tension slowly. Maybe too slowly. After the revelatory scene at the end, I thought that it was amazing the guilty party/parties hadn’t cracked sooner. In any event, I enjoyed the book. I love Cassie and wish her well.
For those of us who were shocked (simply shocked) that French had left us hanging at the end of In the Woods, there is some solace. French is kind enough to toss us a few references to what happened after the events of the first book, so we can have a modicum of closure. I’m still hoping her third book will return to Rob’s story.