I’ve been waiting to read The Likeness by Tana French for so long and finally it appeared in my library after many, many months. I was really impressed with French’s previous novel In the Woods (a sort-of prequel to The Likeness in the sense that it also features Detective Cassie Maddox) which was atmospheric and thrilling and didn’t really wrap up the mystery in a conventional sense. It was like a breath of fresh air and reminded me a lot of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler mysteries.

In The Likeness, French puts forth an incredible premise and one I hadn’t really seen anywhere else. A body of a young woman is found in an abandoned cottage, stabbed. Detective Cassie Maddox is called out to view the body and comes face to face with her double and undercover alter ego, Lexie Madison, who she had put to rest many years ago. Who was this woman and why did she die? This opportunity is too good to miss for Cassie’s ex-boss Frank who created the identity of Lexie Madison, and although her boyfriend Sam disapproves, Cassie agrees to go undercover again to find the killer. She slots back easily into the life of an English PhD sharing a beautiful, crumbling house with Lexie’s four best friends, all students at Trinity College Dublin. The house is in Glenskehy, a small village where no love is lost between the locals and the inhabitants of the house. As well as finding Lexie’s killer, she must also stay a step ahead of her friends, who spend all their time together, and get to the bottom of the biggest mystery of all: who was Lexie?

I actually heard about this book first. There was such a buzz about it amongst book bloggers but I like to read my mysteries in order so had to go and hunt out French’s debut In the Woods. Maybe because I was wanting to read The Likeness for so long, it took me a while to actually get into it and start enjoying the story. And because it’s such a big book, close to 700 pages, I was beginning to worry that I might not like it so much. But, the premise was so intriguing that I kept on reading and soon I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It’s a fantastic mystery, and French keeps the pace, finely tuning the suspense to perfect pitch until you just have to know who did it. I’m so proud of myself that I didn’t turn to the last few pages to find out whodunnit (I learnt my lesson many, many years ago with my Agatha Christies and I regretted it every single time.)

Overall I thought the book could have been a little shorter and there were several instances where I couldn’t understand why Cassie didn’t follow her orders and kept secrets from her boss Frank, because you knew this would just endanger her (as in all thrillers and horror films, I always end up shouting at the screen when a character willingly goes alone into the dark when you know something bad would happen). But she had her reasons, and French has created a wonderful, original and slightly flawed character who understands loss, compassion and above all, her job. Cassie comes with baggage, and French gives her the opportunity to sort herself out.

Lexie and her friends who shared their life in the crumbling house and studied together is strongly reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Their refined air which sets them apart from their peers, their unbreakable bond of friendship and their taut and extremely private inner lives which only needs one event to crack their polished veneer really made me want to reread Tartt again (and I’m going to this year).

Although I found The Likeness to be a slow start, it picked up pace and was overall a very enjoyable read.

*You can read about Tana French’s top 10 maverick mysteries here.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.