The Likeness by Tana French

November 17, 2009

likeness Plot summary (with spoilers): It’s a few months after Operation Vestal took a huge toll on the Dublin Murder Squad, particularly Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. Ryan was so messed up that he transferred out of town, and Cassie ended up moving to the less demanding Domestic Violence squad. She seems to be happy with her new life, until one day she receives a call from Frank Mackey, a detective who usually runs undercover operations. He’s got an interesting murder vic on his hands, and needs Cassie to come out and take a look.

The victim, who was stabbed and left to die in an empty cottage, turns out to be a graduate student named Lexie Madison. Trouble is, Frank and Cassie had created the Lexie Madison ID as a cover for a job they worked together a few years ago. So this victim was living under an assumed identity — and it didn’t take the detectives long to figure out why. She looked exactly like Cassie! They could have been twins, though Cassie swears that she has no known siblings. The way Frank figures it, the unknown woman must have been out someday when someone approached her thinking she was Lexie Madison, i.e. Cassie as her undercover ID. The woman must have rolled with it and assumed the ID for good.

Mackey has an unusual idea. He wants Cassie to pose as this Lexie, and take over her life in an effort to find out who killed her. The cops know that Lexie lived in a house with four friends, and the smart money is on one of them being the murderer. Frank will say that Lexie wasn’t actually dead, she was just in a coma. Then, a week later, Cassie, as Lexie, would go undercover in the house to try to figure out what happened on the fateful night. Cassie is skeptical at first, and boyfriend/fellow detective Sam O’Neill is absolutely against the idea. But she wants to do it, wants to feel that excitement again.

The rest of the novel then shows how Cassie/Lexie tries to assimilate herself in the house again, and how she interacts with friends Daniel, Abby, Rafe, and Justin. Cassie/Lexie tries to get a feel for the different dynamics in the group, to learn about any existing tensions, and to identify the killer.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I thought this was an interesting concept, and was eager to read about what would happen to Cassie in this situation.
  • Tana French is a good writer, and does really well with the psychological stuff. Her insights into what was happening in the house were very good.
  • In the book In the Woods, I thought Rob Ryan was the more interesting character, but I liked Cassie well enough here. She’s got some depth to her!
  • I liked how Rob was mentioned a number of times throughout, even though he doesn’t make an actual appearance. It would have been weird not to talk about him at all.


  • I thought the execution of this novel was terrible! Things unfolded waaaay too slowly. I mean, Cassie didn’t even get into the house until a quarter of the way through the book. It didn’t have to take that long to set up the scene! That beginning was excruciating, but I kept reading on, hoping for a great payoff.
  • I was baffled by French’s choices regarding Cassie/Lexie’s time in the house. Since the cops were convinced that one of the housemates was the killer, there should have been A LOT more suspense whenever Cassie/Lexie was interacting with them. It should have felt like her life was in danger. But French went the complete opposite way — presumably just so Cassie/Lexie could feel conflicted about Daniel in the end.
  • I simply HATED the way French made Cassie/Lexie fall in love with the house, its inhabitants, and the lifestyle. That seemed so totally unprofessional and unrealistic that I couldn’t buy it even for a second. Sitting around with drinks while listening to music or watching movies on the plasma tvs, cooking dinner and lingering over meals… I mean, Cassie was actually thinking about continuing on as Lexie and just living there, for god’s sake! WTF was that all about?! Just utterly dumb.
  • I wanted to give the lookalike premise a fair shake, and thought Cassie would be able to pull it off for a day or two. But there’s no way in HELL she would have been able to live there for weeks without anyone — except Daniel — catching on. That was complete b.s.! I’m sorry, but you can’t capture the essence of a person from a few hours of cell phone video clips. People who were as close as those housemates would have known right away that something was off, something more significant than “stress” from the stabbing or whatever.
  • Again, French just spent waaay too much time covering Cassie/Lexie’s stay in the house. Did we really have to have so many scenes of the group eating meals together, drinking and talking together, studying in the library together? The middle section of the book bogged down under all these similar, repeated scenes. And this was after a slow beginning, remember!
  • Another ending in which French cheats the readers out of a clear answer. Daniel confessed, yet we’re supposed to think that Justin actually did it? The gay guy who cries at the drop of a hat managed to stab Lexie? Really? Why couldn’t we just get a straightforward conclusion?

My Rating
As I said, I thought the basic premise of The Likeness by Tana French was interesting. I was willing to suspend my disbelief about Cassie being able to step into Lexie’s shoes and take over her life, but that only lasted to a point. As soon as French had Cassie stay on and on for three weeks and start dreaming about making that her permanent lifestyle, I couldn’t bear it. I was hoping for so much more from this book, but was severely disappointed. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

4 Responses to “The Likeness by Tana French”

  1. I think maybe it’s implied Abby could have done it.
    More so, Rafe blames Justin because he should have been there for Lexie, I think, while Daniel “finished” the job off.

    I don’t know. Those are just my thoughts.

  2. This book is so dense this overly embroidered interior monologue and too repetative. I’m so glad you have the same criticisms that I have because when a book is universally loved and I don’t like it, I start to wonder what I missed.

  3. Came here because I got about half way throught this book ( about 300 pages mind ) and was losing the will too live.

    ….really glad I did now !

    Way too slow and as others have said a bit of a stretch that a hard-assed undercover goes quite so mushy at the sight of an old house.

  4. I gave up three-quarters of the way through. Cassie’s a smart woman — her need to hide information from her colleagues just didn’t make sense other than to further the story. Somewhere along the way, I stopped liking her.

Leave a Reply