A brilliant talent from Ireland, Tana French spins a fascinating web in The Likeness, false identity, murder, and the secrets of a self-contained enclave of graduate students who inhabit Whitethorn House while they attend university in Dublin, continuing their degrees. Miles away from academia, former undercover agent and member of the Murder Squad Detective Cassie Maddox comes face to face with the past in a fateful moment of reckoning.
Years earlier, Cassie and Detective Frank Mackey created an undercover identity for Cassie: Alexandra (Lexie) Madison. After a particularly brutal case with the Murder Squad, Maddox transfers to Domestic Violence. Then one night she receives an urgent message from her boyfriend, Sam O’Neill, requesting that Cassie come immediately to a crime scene. Sam sounds so unglued that Cassie has no idea what to expect when she arrives in a rural country area at a dilapidated famine shack.
Inside the shack is the body of a young woman, fatally stabbed. Amazingly, the dead woman is Cassie’s doppelganger, a shock that slams around the inside of the detective’s head as Mackey suggests an elaborate scheme to trap the murderer. But there is another surprise awaiting Maddox - the girl’s identity: the victim’s identification bears the name of Cassie’s undercover persona, Lexie Madison. How time and identity can intersect in such a manner presents a unique mystery of its own.
With Sam’s reluctant approval, Mackey plans to inject Cassie into Lexie’s life after announcing that the victim has survived her wound and is recovering. After intense preparation, Cassie becomes Lexie to draw out the killer, returning to Whitethorn House and the four other graduate students who share the isolated mansion inherited by Daniel March. Whether the murderer is inside the house or from a neighboring hostile village, Cassie throws herself into the challenge with her customary energy.
The other housemates - Daniel, Rafe, Justin and Abby - form a tight-knit, emotionally complex unit. French excels in defining these relationships, the subtleties of like-minded souls seeking shelter from a chaotic world. Besides the many layers of an intense, often harrowing investigation, French guides her protagonist through psychologically uncharted waters, an opportunity to belong to a “family” and the shared emotional experiences family implies.
From the serious, enigmatic Daniel to the mercurial Rafe, Cassie “is” Lexie, treading carefully lest she give herself away. The pull between her real life and this new territory is profound, a seductive sense of belonging contrasted with a career in law enforcement and a loving relationship with Sam O’Neill. Yet the past seems to fade with each day Cassie spends at Whitethorn House, the intimacy of the group unlike anything she has ever experienced.
The prose is as vivid as the Irish countryside: “Whitethorn House let me into its secret chambers and healed my wounds.” Ultimately, Cassie’s sojourn is finite, a precarious balance in the face of reality and the “multiples innocences that make up guilt.” A dense and involving novel, The Likeness is as rich and passionate as Ireland’s history.