Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Likeness by Tana French

I’ve seen Tana French’s novels in stores and had them recommended to me over the past few years, but I had yet to read one. I picked up a copy of The Likeness at a library sale last year, but had put off reading it as I knew it was the second in a series. I needn’t have worried. The book spoils In the Woods in the broadest possible ways without getting into any detail. And French is a masterful writer. From the outlandish premise, to the execution of that premise, to the prose, to the plot twists that make perfect sense after they happen, to the interesting and believable characters this is a truly great thriller.

I’ve seen French compared to Donna Tartt at least a couple times. That makes sense for this book, which in parts, is reminiscent of The Secret History. A large portion of The Likeness happens among an insular group of over-privileged college students. Like the Secret History the prose is as much the point as the pulpy elements, and both are fully realized. But The Likeness embraces its genre side a little more. It is essentially an undercover police procedural in structure.

The narrator, Cassie Maddox, is a former undercover officer and a former murder squad officer. Her partner in the murder squad, I take it, was the protagonist of the previous book, the events of which shook Maddox to the point that she switched over to dealing with domestic abuse. The tone of the narration is half hard-boiled and half intentionally literary. She gets a call to come to a murder scene in disguise. When she gets there her boyfriend, still on the murder squad, and her former handler from her undercover days are both on the scene. The victim was Lexie Madison, which is impossible as Madison was Maddox’s undercover persona years earlier. The corpse is an unknown-to-her doppelganger, and it’s quickly apparent that someone who looked just like Maddox assumed the identity and had been living under that alias with an insular group of graduate students in a house in rural Ireland. So Maddox reassumes the identity to see if she can solve the case from the inside. To tell more would spoil many of the pleasures of the novel.

Such a premise could go seriously awry, but French really pulls it off. I will loop back and read In The Woods and then go on with the series. I’m hopeful that the others can live up to this one. It’s great.

Canon Worthy

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 21/75

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