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Review: Familiarity fosters intrigue in French's 'The Likeness'

I've heard it said that your college friends are the best you'll ever have, the ones you'll stay friends with forever. But is there really such a thing as a BFF? Can friendships forged in such a particular time and place transcend all that comes after the cap and gown?

Tana French explores this question and others — What makes us who we are? Can we change ourselves? Can we truly even know ourselves? — in her second novel. The Likeness features Cassie Maddox, who also appeared, though not as the protagonist, in French's first novel, In the Woods. The Dublin detective is handed the strangest of cases: A young woman is found dead, and she so closely resembles Cassie that Cassie's cop boyfriend, who arrives at the scene, is shaken to the core before he realizes the victim isn't his beloved. Moreover, the victim had been using the name Lexie Madison — an alias Cassie had created and used years ago as an undercover officer.

So Cassie goes undercover again, stepping into Lexie's life to learn who she was and who might have killed her. Saying the wound wasn't fatal, Cassie moves into the home Lexie shared with four fellow graduate students. At first she is tentative; one wrong move and her cover will be burned. As she gets to know her companions, Cassie's comfort level grows. The housemates' friendship is strangely close, and seductive. None of them seems to have other friends at the college, and they spend all their free time together, studying, playing cards and working on projects to improve their home, a historic estate inherited by one, Daniel. Cassie is startled to learn Daniel has given each of them (including her, in her role as Lexie) an equal share of the title. It's a clue to Lexie's death that raises as many questions as it answers.

French draws in readers as deftly as the house-mates lure Cassie. In the Woods haunted with its tragic, yet inevitable, conclusion. The Likeness builds tension until it explodes in a blur of regret tinged with hope. I can't wait to see what French has for us in her next book.

Kate Brassfield can be reached at or (727) 893-8216.

The Likeness

By Tana French

Viking, 466 pages, $25.95

Review: Familiarity fosters intrigue in French's 'The Likeness' 09/06/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 3:32pm]
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