The Likeness (2008) is the second in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad Series. I read the first book, In the Woods back in 2015. So far I've found these books both impressive and disturbing. They are relatively long and complex murder mysteries that dig deep into the psychological toll that these cases take on the detectives.
Cassie Maddox is back from In the Woods. After the disastrous ending to her last murder investigation, she transferred to Domestic Violence, never spoke to her old partner again, and began to date Sam (another investigator from the Dublin Murder Squad). The Likeness begins when Sam unexpectedly calls her to a new murder scene. He sounds agitated and Cassie discovers why when she arrives in the small, traditional town on the outskirts of Dublin. The victim has been stabbed in the chest and died in a run-down cottage in the fields outside a grand manor falling to ruins. Her name is Lexi Madison, an alias that Cassie used when she worked undercover. Even more disturbing is that she looks exactly like Cassie. When Sam first saw the body, he thought he was looking at the dead body of his girlfriend.
Lexi appeared to live a relatively simple life. She was earning a Ph.D. in English at the nearby University. She lived with four good friends from school in a nearby house. Besides school and friends, she didn't interact with many other people. Frank, the head of undercover, decides that they can use these extraordinary events to create an extraordinary undercover assignment. He wants to tell everyone that Lexi was only wounded by the stabbing, then send Cassie in as Lexi to discover more about her life and uncover a suspect.
Daniel inherited the grand manor from his uncle in great disrepair. He invited his friends to live there with them, and they have become quite the clique--more like family than friends. The other housemates are Abby, Justin, and Rafe. Cassie ends up entering this house as Lexi, knowing only what the detectives could uncover with their questioning. She doesn't know if one of them is the killer, or what her relationship to them might be.
Because of the shared name and looks, Cassie is already personally interested in Lexi. As she spends more time in the house and gets more comfortable, she has a harder time staying objective. In some ways, she wishes she was Lexi. As the book progresses, Cassie learns more about the relationships between the five friends as well as other possible suspects.
I liked that this was a fascinating and original premise. Cassie had a chance to solve a murder in a way that probably had never been done before. It brings up questions of ethics, danger, and the psychological toll on both Cassie and Lexi's friends from the house. When Cassie is in the house, she is always in danger of a potential killer, or at the very least being found out, which keeps tension in the book consistently high. Yet she flourishes in these circumstances, even as her relationship with Sam is tested.
On the other hand, this plot didn't always work for me, and I got distracted when I had problems believing what was happening. I couldn't imagine messing with someone's grief by pretending to be their recently murdered friend. In addition, I couldn't believe that Cassie could pass as Lexi, no matter how much they look alike. These are friends who've lived together for a long time. How does Cassie even know where to put things away in the kitchen? How does Cassie teach a class as Lexi at school? There were too many details and unknowns for it to work. I also didn't understand why Cassie was always hiding so much from Frank. I know she didn't wholly trust him, but even right at the beginning, she was keeping things to herself and lying to him.
Even with these issues, this book was original, memorable, and disturbing. It kept me reading and thinking throughout. I need a little break, but I'll be moving on to the rest of the series eventually.