Review: The Likeness by Tana French


The LikenessThe Likeness by Tana French (Viking Adult, 2008)

Blurb: Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover. She’s transferred out of the murder squad and started a relationship with Detective Sam O’Neill, but she’s too badly shaken to make a commitment to him or to her career. Then Sam calls her to the scene of his new case: a young woman found stabbed to death in a small town outside Dublin. The dead girl’s ID says her name is Lexie Madison (the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective, and she looks exactly like Cassie.

With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie’s real identity, Cassie’s old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students live in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie’s growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk.


I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of identity. Who determines our identity—are we who we believe we are, or are we who others believe us to be? Is it possible for someone to truly assume another person’s identity, and if so, wouldn’t that mean we are what other people project onto us, rather than the sum of our own emotions and experiences?

This is the story of four people who have developed an incredibly close bond—only one of them isn’t who the others think she is. And when Lexie Madison is found murdered near the home where she’s living and, with her friends, renovating, the police immediately realize she’s been living a lie, one they plan to continue, with the help of the undercover officer who created Lexie’s identity years ago. As Lexie, Cassie is able to slip right into the murdered girl’s life and routine, or so it seems.

Cassie is a fascinating and complex character, and French does an amazing job of keeping Lexie and Cassie completely separate even as they are unavoidably intertwined. Ireland itself, as it always is, becomes a primary character in this novel, which is almost Gothic in flavor with the old, drafty estate house as its main setting. But by far the most intriguing character in this book is Lexie, the “real” Lexie, precisely because she is entirely the product of other people’s memories. She’s lived her entire life pretending to be someone else, and French has written a remarkable psychological thriller around discovering who Lexie might actually have been.


My rating: 5 stars


2 responses »

  1. I don’t like many psychological thrillers, but I really like Tana French’s writing. I read this before I started blogging so I don’t remember my reaction very clearly, alas.

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