• The Likeness by Tana French

    the-likeness-190 I’m continuing my Tana French obsession, because I’m finding crime drama written with a focus on deep characterization really fascinating. French is a lyrical writer (my Irish husband says this is obviously because she’s Irish – you may disagree out of his earshot) and her prose often borders on poetry in its pacing and description. The New York Times review called it rambling, but they also misreported some key plot points in their opening paragraph, so there is only so much you can take seriously in their review. Still, to readers used to the greater brevity and plot-based action of most crime fiction, I could see that the amount of time spent in developing character could be frustrating. But it is the personalities that move the plot and anyone drawn to psychology will appreciate the deep and full characters in French’s writing.

    The Likeness picks up and fills in the final chapter of French’s first Dublin Murder Squad novel In The Woods, filling in details that Rob reports in a single paragraph about what happens in the next two years of Cassie Maddox’s life. The novel opens when Sam, still working in Murder, is called to the scene of the stabbed body of a woman who has been mysteriously posing as Cassie’s undercover persona Lexie Madison. This is a doppelgänger novel with a twist; the doubles cannot possibly have been in the same place at the same time, because one is the corpse and one is the cop.

    Cassie’s former Undercover boss Frank gets wind of the case and can’t resist setting up Cassie to go under cover as the murder victim to discover the crime. It’s an irresistible challenge for an undercover cop. It’s a really terrible idea in many ways; so many small details make up a person to their closest associates, so making potentially fatal mistakes is very easy, which is a large part of what drives the tension of the novel. But knowing full well that it’s a bad idea and that it will probably break her romance with the ever faithful good guy Sam, Cassie is talked into it anyway, because she can’t resist the thrill of it.

    Cassie quickly becomes absorbed in the world of Lexie Madison, a graduate student living in a unbelievable Anglo-Irish mansion with four other students. But they’re more than friends – they are the family that Cassie has never really experienced. Her professionalism quickly falls to the background as she’s drawn into their fantastical world, where pasts are a forbidden topic of discussion, but the great authors still live on. Tension with the locals quickly springs up, adding intrigue into the central story question. Was it an insider? Outsider? And who? But even more importantly, why? So often in crime drama, the why is just a way of moving the plot forward, but in French’s novels, the why is the crime and the mystery.

    There are some aspects of The Likeness that the reader just has to suspend disbelief for. Cassie having an unrelated doppelgänger is one of them, particularly given Cassie’s unusual French-Irish heritage. There are also a few leads that are never satisfactorily followed up on, which the author in me admires for mimicking life so thoroughly, but the reader wants satisfied. They are irrelevant to the central plot, but having been alluded to, its disappointing that my curiosity wasn’t satisfied. I put down the novel wanting even more detail, more understanding of the motivations and backgrounds of the characters, because that’s how real they are.

    On the whole, though, this was a novel that I won’t soon forget. It is equally as powerful as In The Woods and, despite sharing a world and a protagonist, still managed to be its own animal. All its done is make me hungry for the next French novel, Faithful Place, which I may have to put off until I have two days to dedicate to the reading, because this was a tough one to put down.

    Genre: crime, mystery, psychological thriller
  • In the Woods by Tana French

    In the Woods by Tana FrenchI am not usually much one for cop dramas, but In the Woods got me.  Set in the fictional Murder Squad in Dublin, the story begins with the murder of Katie Devlin, a promising young ballet star, a twelve year old with nothing but hope and success in front of her.  One night she disappears and two days later, her body turns up in an archaeological dig, on an ancient Celtic altar.  That is the backdrop.  French takes you through the case as a plot movement, as a way of moving the story forward, but it isn’t the true narrative.

    The narrator is one Rob Ryan, formerly known as Adam Ryan, until the day he is out in the same woods that our young ballet star is murdered in.  He went in the woods with his two best friends, but came out alone, with blood all over his shoes.  The case is never solved and Ryan is sent to boarding school in England to get away from the publicity.  Katie’s murder brings him back to the woods, where he must confront his past, as the people and places he knew as a child have become important players in the investigation of Katie’s death.  He is paired with Cassie Maddox, the only woman on the Murder Squad and his best friend, and the real narrative of the novel is their partnership.

    The writing is beautiful.  The narrator is a thoughtful man, who tells the story from a distance of some years in the future.  His voice is lyrical and honest.  Unusual for a crime drama, there are still certain sentences and images that are lingering in my mind days after I’ve put down the book.  Although the novel turns on certain stereotypical elements, which set my teeth on edge for the first fifty page, I quickly forgot them in the art of the writing.  Once the drama ramped up and the loose threads that French placed into the beginning of the story began to be woven together into a cohesive whole, I found that I couldn’t put the book down.  French can turn a sentence and control a scene like a master. The characters are people that we know, reasonable and smart people placed into tough situations.  Maddox and Ryan are heroes, but human heroes who make dreadful mistakes and have to pay the cost of them.  Their back stories are relevant and move the plot, while adding depth to their characterization.  When the novel ended, I was sad that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with them, so I was delighted to learn that this is just a first in a series.  French just might be an exception for me; the mystery writer that I’m going to have to keep reading.

    • Publisher: Viking Press
    • Publish Date: May 17, 2007
    • Hardcover: 429 pages
    • ISBN:0670038601
    • Language: English
    • Rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Genre: crime, fiction, mystery, psychological thriller