Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I'll be you

Tana French's the Likeness stars off slowly and I nearly boxed it off for a friend, but I stuck with it and ended up thinking it superior to her Edgar winning In the Woods.

Her first novel focused on a fairly typical murder investigation. This one has an undercover operation at the center. The title refers to a corpse who looks almost exactly like former undercover operative Detective Cassie Maddox (one of the detectives in the first book). The cops suspect a group of peculiar college students with whom the victim lived. Cassie's former boss Frank Mackey wants her to impersonate the victim and live amongst the students to find the killer.

The opening section deals with the preparation and is slow, but once Cassie is in the house, the book is completely engaging. While there are similarities to the Secret History, the focus here is more on the challenges and tensions of being undercover as well as the slippery definitions of identity. Cassie is able to assume the identity of the victim Lexie Madison with relative ease, but finds her own identity mixing with Lexie's. Lexie, though, had a history of creating and destroying identities, but to her friends she is very real. On a larger level, French looks at the the creation of group identities at the local and national level. This plays into the climax nicely.

For a crime novel, the book verges on being overly long, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Although I did my typical check the bookmark to see how much further I had to go, I didn't try to hurry it up to get to the next book. The characters are not the stock cops and thugs we see time and again, but are novel and multifaceted. There is lots of talking in this book, which highlights French's skill with dialogue.

In this interview, French reveals that the narrator of the her book will be Frank Mackey. I like that she is using the same universe (what she calls a clump of characters,) but isn't sticking with the same narrator. This gives some continuity while allowing the author to explore a new character and will hopefully prevent a slide into decadence.


christina said...

I read In the Woods last year and couldn't wait for The Likeness to come out. When I finally got it from the library I couldn't get past the beginning. I must have picked it up a handful of times before I finally gave up. Thanks for sharing that perhaps there *is* more to it. I will try it again.

Tripp said...


I would definitely give it another try. The bad news is that it doesn't really pick up until about page 90. The good news is the rest is great!