Book Title: THE LIKENESS
Author: Tana French
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 553
Still traumatised by her brush with a psychopath, Detective Cassie Maddox transfers out of the Murder squad and starts a relationship with fellow detective Sam O'Neill. When he calls her to the scene of his new case, she is shocked to find that the murdered girl is her double. What's more, her ID shows she is Lexie Madison - the identity Cassie used, years ago, as an undercover detective.
Perhaps I should start by saying I didn't have any problem at all with IN THE WOODS - not how it ended, not that there were unresolved issues. To my mind it made everything much more realistic. I know that in real life there are things which are never explainable, not everything is "fixed", not everyone's believable or reliable.
Having enjoyed that book, I was particularly interested in THE LIKENESS. For those who aren't aware, this isn't really part of a series, so don't pick it up expecting the open threads at the end of the first book to be resolved for you. Instead, this is the story of an undercover operation that starts out with a very big surprise for Detective Cassie Maddox. The body of a young woman is found in a remote cottage - she'd been stabbed, body had been moved after she died. What's so very startling for Cassie and fellow detective (and lover) Sam O'Neill is that the dead woman is Cassie's double. And she's using an old undercover alias of Cassie's - Lexie Madison. With absolutely no leads and no clues as to Lexie's real identity, Cassie's old undercover boss decides that the only way in is to lie about Lexie's death and send Cassie in to impersonate the dead girl.
With her only leads to Lexie's personality and behaviour being a short mobile phone video and the stories of her friends, Cassie's undercover assignment means that she must infiltrate both Lexie's university and home life. It's the home life that's the most unlikely as Lexie lives with 4 other very close friends in a big, shambling house in the country - not far from where her body was found. These five people (3 boys and 1 other girl) have a very close, almost family like relationship - living, studying and working on the house together, excluding just about everybody else from their circle. Now it goes without saying that readers of THE LIKENESS are going to have to sit very firmly on a fairly hefty pile of disbelief to get past some of the obvious What The... moments in accepting this sort of infiltration.
On the plus side, Cassie is a fantastic central character. Brave, but not stupid, quick thinking and adaptable, she's also very realistic and very human. She struggles at every step of the assignment to keep from liking Lexie's life and friends way too much, to stay in touch with real life. She also has the simmering romance with Sam, as well as the fallout from a previous case that she has to deal with, and you can really start to see how the life of a student cosseted by these friends and their slightly odd life would be attractive and easy to slip into.
The pace of the book (albeit it a bit of a doorstopper) is good, and there's a lot happening as Cassie tries her hardest to get the truth about Lexie's death from her closest friends, whilst the rest of the team try to find Lexie's real identity and how it is that she came to use Cassie's undercover alias. There are undoubtedly some flaws in this book - the unlikely plot and some dreaded (for some readers) loose ends that aren't resolved or even explained in some cases. But for me, this was compensated for in spades by the great characters, good dialogue, engaging personal relationships and the ever increasing tension of when Cassie would finally be discovered. There's definitely something about this author's writing and her characters that kept me with this story, and made the pile of disbelief a surprisingly comfortable reading chair. Hopefully in the next book this author will sort out how to combine the great characterisations and good storytelling with a little more feasibility in plotting - but in the meantime, as pure entertainment, I really enjoyed THE LIKENESS.