French, Tana. The Likeness.

NY: Viking, 2008.

I really liked the author’s first novel, In the Woods, but this second one about the Dublin Murder Squad is even better. Detective Cassie Maddox, who was the main supporting player the first time around, is the principal character here, and a much more sympathetic one than her ex-partner. She’s floating along in Domestic Violence — the previous homicide case pretty much made her head explode and DV is more manageable for now — when her boyfriend, Sam O’Neill, still in Murder, calls in a panic to make sure she’s still alive.

Then he drags her to an abandoned cottage on a rundown estate in the country to view a dead, stabbed body — which appears to be her own. They say everyone has a doppelganger, and this one is so exactly like her, she wonders for a moment if she has become a ghost and didn’t notice.

The dead girl, Lexie Madison, was one of the five residents in the nearby Big House, all of them postgrad students at Trinity College, and all of whom were very, very close. Not just roomies, but the next thing to family. Cassie used to do undercover before she got onto the Murder Squad, and she’s not pleased to be approached at the scene by Frank Mackey, her old boss. He’s an extremely manipulative son of a bitch, but also a brilliant manager of undercover operations. And Frankie has an idea: Wire up Cassie, tell everyone the victim recovered, and send her in to join the other four. He figures one of them must have done it and this is the sort of opportunity no homicide cop has ever had before.

The problem is, Cassie is almost too good an actress. She begins to feel like she belongs there. She comes to identify with Lexie, and she wants very much to be part of that “family.”And as the story progresses, with other possible suspects being identified, considered, and rejected, she slips farther and farther under the spell of what seems an idyllic life. But good things never last.

French is very talented in her poetic use of the language, and in constructing a devious and entirely credible, suspenseful plot, even with the major coincidence upon which it’s built. Her characters come fully to life, especially Daniel, the one with the dream. Even Lexie, whom we never meet except as a corpse, is fully realized, and that takes skill. I’m going to be following this author with interest.

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