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The Likeness    by Tana French order for
by Tana French
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Irish Detective Cassie Maddox, first met as a member of the Murder squad in In the Woods, returns for a truly one-of-a-kind investigation in The Likeness. It begins with a call from a shaken Detective Sam O'Neill, with whom Cassie's been in a relationship since the previous case ended - a case that left Cassie 'easily freaked out' and distanced from her previous partner and best friend. She also transferred to Domestic Violence.

As the story opens, a young woman's body has been found stabbed in a ruined house near Glenskehy outside Dublin. Not only is the victim the spitting image of Cassie Maddox, but she had assumed an identity, Lexie Madison, that Cassie and her boss at the time, Frank Mackey, had created for a particular drug undercover operation. Now Sam is in charge of the murder investigation, but Frank wants to pretend that Lexie survived and send Cassie in to assume her identity and uncover the killer. While Sam is vehemently opposed to the idea, Cassie is intrigued, almost against her will, musing that - 'This was the first time I had felt like my real opponent wasn't the murderer but the victim: defiant, clenching her secrets white-knuckle tight, and evenly, perfectly matched against me in every way, too close to call.'

Thoroughly coached by Frank, Cassie turns herself into Lexie and, after a supposed stint in hospital, joins Lexie's tight group of friends and housemates - cool, controlled Daniel, wild Rafe, frail Justin and warm Abby - at their refuge in Whitethorn House, a run-down Georgian mansion that Daniel inherited and they all now own jointly. It takes Cassie's breath away when they 'open their circle' and sweep her in. Her investigation continues in that vein, feeling Lexie's strong ties to the engaging people around her who are nevertheless suspects. As Cassie digs up details of the victim's recent life - including historical bad feeling from villagers towards Daniel's ancestors and modern vandalism and thefts from the house - Frank finds out more about Lexie's prior identities.

The story builds to a remarkable conclusion, in which Cassie uncovers the truth - but with terrible consequences. She ultimately tempers justice with mercy, concluding that 'the truth is more intricate and less attainable than I used to understand, a bright illusive place reached by twisting back roads as often as by straight avenues, and this was the closest I could come.' I highly recommend The Likeness to you as an excellent, most unusual mystery. On closing the book, I put Tana French high on my own must read list.

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