10 March 2012


There was this day when we had a couple things that required us to drive to the fringes of the suburbia. It's only about 25 miles, but since I stopped commutning 100 miles a day, this counts as a road trip. The editor-in-chief in our house had to have a manuscript printed for a client. kinko's (or whatever it's called these days) seemed like the logical choice, even it meant a road trip. There's a Barnes and Noble store across the parking lot from the copy center, so I knew I could keep myself amused.

While the photocopy machine was pumping out paper copies of a perfectly good digital file, I wandered the bookstore, bought a copy of Tana French's The Likeness, bought a coffee, and settled down to read.

Last August, I read a couple of Tana French's books (In the Woods and Faithful Place) and really liked them. Since the beginnings of her books were especially good, I looked forward to the beginning of The Likeness and the bookstore coffee.

I wasn't disappointed.

If French hooked me with gorgeous images and attractive characters at the beginning of her other books, she got me with a plot device at the beginning of this one. Imagine a couple of undercover cops creating a false identity so one of them could go undercover to investigate drug dealing at an Irish university. Making up a family and background that couldn't easily be traced and creating certificates, licenses, and diplomas in the name of the new, fictitious person, Lexie Madison. The investigation goes pretty well, but the undercover cop has to rescued after being stabbed by one of the druggies.

Fast forward a few years and the young cop who had gone undercover, gets a call about a murder, even though she's not working homicide. The victim is a university grad student named Lexie Madison. And the corpse is a dead ringer (pun resisted, but not avoided) for the former undercover cop. Because of the circumstances of the death, the young cop is asked to once again assume the identity of Lexie Madison and help find her murderer. (This seems like a very Shakespearean plot device.)

Ready for this? How do you learn enough about someone to successfully step into her life? Her habits? preferences? speech patterns? academics? love life? finances? And then move back into the house she shared with four other grad students?

Some of the details are glossed over and others ignored. French compensates by once again creating attractive characters and incredible dialogues. The story is told mostly in real time dialogue from the perspective of the undercover cop. That may be the flaw. Coversation is a slow way to tell a story, even when the story teller is as good as French. There's pretty steady high level of tension in the story telling (the undercover is continually tempted to become Lexie Madison), but little variation. A few crises might have helped. About two-thirds of the way through the book, the outlines of the conclusion were pretty clear, but there was still a lot of book to read (total 466 pages in my paperback copy). And knowing in general what was coming made approaching the climax laborious.

But, I couldn't bring myself to skip ahead. I wanted to "hear" those conversations and explanations. French kept dragging me back into relationships that made up the stories of Lexie Madison. In spite of having to slog through the swamp of the ending, I really liked this book.

Have you read The Likeness? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.

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