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The Likeness

A Novel

by Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French X
The Likeness by Tana French
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Patty Magyar

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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 forms. It is a social commentary (but never sententious) and it is also about fear and flight and love.

Casie Maddox and Sam O'Neill are detectives from In the Woods. Although Operation Vestal (from In the Woods) is mentioned several times, these books can be read in any sequence without ruining it for the reader. The setting is again Dublin, Ireland.

Cassie is the star attraction of this story as she goes undercover to live with four liberal arts doctoral candidates whose housemate, Lexie Maddox, is found dead from a stabbing in an abandoned cottage. Lexie Maddox looks exactly like Cassie, and the name is her last undercover alias, which adds to the mystery. The housemates will be told that she survived the stabbing.

It isn't necessary to give too many plot details. What is more important is the response from reading. This is a generous, gorgeous, thoughtful, poetic story. The tone is almost elegiac at times, especially during her descriptive paragraphs, and the author's use of the extended metaphor is prolific and often profound. At the end of the novel, I looked up hawthorn (the tree, flower, bush) on Wikipedia and had a chill run up and down my spine. Her descriptions, turns of phrase, elegant passages and graceful unfolding keep me fastened and fascinated. What I love about Tana French is that her novels are both character-driven AND plot-driven. She does not sacrifice one for the other. With most mysteries, I only read them once. But The Likeness can be read again just for the aesthetics. Also, there is no deus ex machina here. The story is excellently paced with a well-timed delivery of its climax.

Tana French is no lightweight, but she makes the story accessible to anyone who enjoys reading. She has that gift to appeal to a variety of readers-- even readers who look for largely escape mysteries. But this is not escape reading; it is the kind of reading that makes you ponder. It is philosophical and it echoes. It has shadows, swirls, hollows, heart,humanity, tension, suspense, whispers, hawthorn, hawthorn, hawthorn...
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