Summary and book reviews of The Likeness by Tana French

The Likeness

A Novel

By Tana French

The Likeness

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Book Summary

Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover. She’s transferred out of the murder squad and started a relationship with Detective Sam O’Neill, but she’s too badly shaken to make a commitment to him or to her career. Then Sam calls her to the scene of his new case: a young woman found stabbed to death in a small town outside Dublin. The dead girl’s ID says her name is Lexie Madison – the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective – and she looks exactly like Cassie.

With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie’s real identity, Cassie’s old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students lived in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie’s growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk. Another gripping psychological thriller featuring the headstrong protagonist we’ve come to love, from an author who has proven that she can deliver.

Prologue

Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House. In the dream it’s always spring, cool fine light with a late-afternoon haze. I climb the worn stone steps and knock on the door—that great brass knocker, going black with age and heavy enough to startle you every time—and an old woman with an apron and a deft, uncompromising face lets me in. Then she hangs the big rusted key back on her belt and walks away down the drive, under the falling cherry blossom, and I close the door behind her. The house is always empty. The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings. Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wideopen windows, and of beeswax polish. Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill. Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.

In the sitting room the piano is open, wood ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Early on in the book, Cassie Maddox says that “all the best undercovers have a dark thread woven into them, somewhere.” What is hers?

  2. For Cassie, going undercover is almost a compulsion. What drives her to accept Frank’s offer and take on Operation Mirror?

  3. The rule at Whitethorn House is “no pasts,” yet the house is seeped in history and artifacts from earlier eras. How does the house help its inhabitants avoid their own histories?

  4. Undercover, Cassie slowly gets drawn into life at Whitethorn House and develops a fondness for Lexie’s idiosyncratic housemates. What is it about this world that is so enchanting for her?

  5. Cassie says this is Lexie Madison’s story, not hers, yet she tells it like it’s ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Readers expecting a light distracting English/Irish mystery might be a bit disappointed in this book. I found myself reading and rereading passages to reassure myself that I knew what events were occurring and why. This did not detract from the book's essential story but did make it more than light reading. Tana French's style of writing is unique to her in its intensity and her fascination with developing characters. After reading her first book, In the Woods, and The Likeness, I will need a romp with a few English tea-drinking murderers who are not complex and have nothing to hide, before I tackle her next book. But I am certain of one thing…I will tackle it!   (Reviewed by Patty Magyar).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Readers looking for a new name in psychological suspense need look no further than this powerful new Irish voice.

Library Journal

French creates remarkably complex characters while gradually unpeeling the layers of her story in this rich and insightful psychological thriller. A stunner.

Kirkus Reviews

Police procedures, psychological thrills and gothic romance beautifully woven into one stunning story.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Ms. French resists genre conventions defiantly enough to have written a long, rambling book, one that is more interested in character revelations than in “Aha!” moments about the plot. She could have achieved the same effects much more succinctly in a more tightly edited version of this same story. But Cassie herself remains a strong enough character to sustain interest, even if many of her observations about Whitethorn have a vague, hazy quality. All she needs is a sparring match with Frank, and Cassie quickly returns to the land of the living — and to the subtle demands of her perilous, suspenseful masquerade.

Entertainment Weekly - Kate Ward

Imagine The Parent Trap meets The Departed, and you've got The Likeness, Tana French's nearly pitch-perfect follow-up to her 2007 debut thriller, In the Woods. Grade A.

Reader Reviews
Betsey Van Horn

Transcends genre--exquisite
As in her first novel, In the Woods, Tana French has created another sensuous, lyrical, haunting, suspenseful story. Although it is considered a mystery, it is much much more than that. It is a story of identity in all its literal and metaphorical ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Doppelgangers
When Cassie sees a woman lying stabbed to death who looks exactly like her, with an ID that matches the identity she used for years as an undercover detective, it seems clear that she is looking at her own doppelganger.

  • The dictionary describes a doppelganger (or doubleganger, from the German for 'doublegoer' or lookalike) as a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person. In the vernacular the term has come to be used more loosely to describe any sort of double.
     
  • The doppelgangers of folklore are said to have no shadows or reflection (similar in some ways to vampires). They are inevitably bad news, being either ...

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