Which goes to say, "The Likeness" is not a romance - or even romantic - novel. Ha - not even close. Unless you count dead college students romantic (and if you do, well, that makes you weird). "The Likeness" is Tana French's second go with Detectives Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan on Dublin's Murder Squad. Set six months after "In the Woods" ended, this story is from Cassie's point of view. If you read "In the Woods," you've probably come to know and like Cassie; she's a scrappy, tough, and extremely likable woman with a good head on her shoulders and the courage to match. In short, the exact opposite of Emily Giffin's and Sophie Kinsella's normal bubblep-headed, shoe-obsessed protagonists.
Cassie finds herself drawn into a mystery of mind-numbing proportions. Her former handler in the Undercover department, Frank Mackey, brings her onto a case of a person who never existed: Lexie Madison, her old alias. Cassie's Lexie was invented in Frank's office several years ago when Cassie infiltrated a known drug ring at Trinity College. But that Lexie was stabbed several years ago and Cassie resumed her normal identity. But one bright Irish morning yields a dead woman in a cottage who not only bears a striking resemblance to Cassie but also holds carries a Trinity College ID with the name Lexie Madison. While Lexie might never have existed, the dead body is certainly real enough.
Frank then suggests the impossible; in order to catch the killer, he encourages Cassie to resume her former identity. By telling Lexie's roommates that she was merely wounded, not killed, Cassie must learn all of Lexie's quirks and interests to pull off this stunt.
This novel, similar to the last, is more of a study in character development than a true 'Gotcha!' murder mystery. Without giving too much away, the most shocking part of the book is that Cassie-turned-Lexie finds a home for the first time; orphaned at the age of five, Cassie has never understood what it's like to be surrounded by loving people. With her roommates at Whitethorn House, she finds the draw of family more enticing than her adrenaline-laced job with the Irish garda (the Garda is the police force, for you non-Irish speaking folks out there). The line between reality and fiction starts to blur, and Cassie runs the risk of seriously loosing her professional objectivity.
**SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK OR SKIP THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS**
Now you know the basics of the book, it's impossible to talk about this novel without referencing (and spoiling) plot aspects of "In the Woods." We know whatever love/camaraderie happened between Cassie and Rob died at the end of the first book, but in "The Likeness," you find out more. Sam is the head detective from Murder assigned to Lexie's case, and also Cassie's boyfriend, but he must watch as Cassie and Frank weave more lie after another, possibly jeopardizing his relationship with her. And Cassie seemed okay letting it happen. I personally was dying to find out what happened between Cassie and Rob and seriously had my fingers crossed for the entire book that she would ditch boring Galway Sam for psychologically-traumatized but dashingly-handsome Rob.
This book also had me wondering if I'm more of a romantic than I realized. While I love a good mystery, I will admit, I was far more interested in the Cassie-Rob-Sam dynamic than I was in Lexie Madison and the Whitethorn group. Rob is only mentioned by name in the book, never making an appearance, and the mystery between the failed relationship (I mean, besides the fact Rob freaked out completely and acted like a complete idiot) is revealed in two small paragraphs embedded in the novel's ending. Those two paragraphs had me bawling - literally, sobbing - at 1:30am while sitting in the baby's nursery. (I really wanted to finish the novel last night, and Brian had to go to bed. Sitting in the glider in the nursery seemed like a good option at that point, even though I had no idea what I was in for.) And with those two paragraphs, it all made sense. I cannot say enough about a writer who cleverly tucks the most powerful of plot lines in the most unlikely of places. And you know what? Now I'm totally Team Cassie. And I hope she and Sam are very happy together in the future. Rob can sit and rot for all I care. (how is THAT for change in attitude?)
**SPOILERS OVER. CONTINUE READING**
Tana French really needs some major publicity, Oprah-style. I would love to see either novel made into movie-form, though the lovely narrative quality that is so appealing about both books would clearly be lost. If I had to choose, I would say I enjoyed "In the Woods" more than "The Likeness," but both are excellent reads. French doesn't treat the reader like an idiot (thank you!) and she is more the comfortable leaving loose ends by the novel's completion. While this may bother some readers, I love it. I think it just opens the door for further stories involving this group of characters.
Also, allegedly, word on the street is that the third book is from Frank Mackey's point of view, which should be hilarious and fascinating. As Cassie's boss, he had the charming, slippery quality that makes you love him and hate him at the same time. I can only imagine the trouble he'll get into.