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Author Tana French has an extraordinary knack for setting plot hooks. In In The Woods, she fashions two murder mysteries, decades apart. In The Likeness, it is the very unlikely coincidence of a stabbing victim that looks identical to one of the police detectivesand the chiefs send her undercover to root out the killer, or killers. Both incidences work well to keep its audience chasing the dangling carrot through a rather dense series of scenesover 400 pages worth in both bookscontaining numerous red herrings, intriguing backstories, and poignant discussions about identity, freedom, and the Angelican way. These are not easy, punchy reads like most procedural crime thrillers. Like it or not, the reader is incarcerated within the novels' confines by the enticing thirst for closure, while plodding through the everyday and mundane strategies of solving crimes.

Former Murder Squad detective Cassie Maddox slides over from the previous, debut novel. She has lost her former partner and soulmateRob Ryanwhile unraveling the spider twists of a calculating psychopath butchering within her own family, and is still with her earnest and protective spotter, Sam O'Neill. A young woman is discovered dead from a single stab wound to the chest. She is found in a deserted "famine cottage"(p.63) outside the hamlet of Glenskehy, a village of disgruntled diehards that either want to be left alone or to be swept up in the progress of building shopping malls and parking lots connecting to the suburbs of Dublin. The body's identification names her as Alexandra Madisonor Lexie as she was knownthe same moniker Cassie has used in some undercover operations. Turns out she's filling the role of a younger sister in a makeshift family of five fellow students at Trinity, who live nearby in the former mansion of the landed gentry overseeing the village back in the day. The local yokels hate them; the police finger them most likely for the crime, and Cass infiltrates this tight band of graduate-study roommates with a phony story that Lexie survived what turned out to be merely a flesh wound.


Butagainthere are two mysteries to solve here: who killed her and who in the hell was she?(1) And, of course, one is germane to the other.

Author French does some admirable sleight-of-hand to keep her audience off the AKA plausibility sore spot and dives deliciously into fascinating characterizationsthrough Cassie's 1st-person eyesof this cult-like group. Along the way, there's intellectual, life-choice ponderances like, "you can have anything you want as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it."


We have sushi bars and SUVs, but people our age can't afford homes in the city where they grew up, so centuries-old communities are disintegrating like sand castles. People spend five or six hours a day in traffic; parents never see their children, because they both have to work overtime to make ends meet. We no longer have time for culturetheaters are closing, architecture is being wrecked to make way for office blocks. . . [And] we've become a nation of defaulters: we buy on credit, and when the bill comes in, we're so deeply outraged that we refuse even to look at it.


Part of the debtor mentality is a constant, frantically suppressed undercurrent of terror. We have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world . . . Those in powergovernment, employersexploit this, to great effect. Frightened people are obedient.


With fear comes aggravation:

Our entire society's based on discontent: people wanting more and more and more . . . Taking it for granted that that's the whole point of life, never to be satisfied. If you're perfectly happy . . . then you're dangerous. . . You're undermining the sacred economy, you're challenging every assumption that society's build on.


And distrust that leads to outrage:

Once the ruler is no longer willing to be the sacrifice for his people, he becomes not a leader but a leech, forcing others to take his risks while he sits in safety . . . War [then] becomes a hideous abstraction, a game for bureaucrats to play on paper [where] soldiers and civilians become mere pawns to be sacrificed . . . for reasons that have no roots in reality. As soon as rulers mean nothing, war means nothing; human life means nothing. We're ruled by venal little usurpers, all of us, and they make meaninglessness everywhere they go.



But grinding through the data-logging yields motivation. "You asked me what I wanted . . . I truly wanted only two things in this world: the company of my friends, and the opportunity for unfettered thought."(p.338). That's Daniel speaking, the melancholy lad whose family ran the show during feudal times, and the initiator of the house's mini-colony of similarly-hankering, life-long buddies. Then there's Justin, a cliche-affected gay constantly swallowing-back fear with harpiness. And Rafe, "a sarky litter fucker", living off Daddy's merchant-banker trust fund, with "iced-tea eyes hooded like a hawk's"(p.39). Lastly is Abby, an intellectual cipher and emotional question mark. Cursorily, in "the sheer luminous perfection of it all, [they were] about one robin redbreast away from a greeting card"(p.40). Later they are described as "seamless"(p.112) and "choreographed as precisely and tightly as a gavotte"(p.308) in their inscrutableness.

Thematically, it becomes an armwrestling match of life-style theory that breaks both opponent's wrists. Daniel, along with the other members of Whitethorn House, rally for an isolationist meritocracy by keeping indebtedness at bay with ownership, not credit, and scrutizing membership for tight, like-minded companions. They are an island amidst constantly-shifting currents of cultural offal and bureaucratic stockades. Their undoing tsunami is the disposition of homogeneous democracy mixed with multivarious human nature.

Lexie represents a more nomadic concept where all emotional ties are immediately discarded when freedom is curtailed in any way. She is a camel in the desertgoing from one autonomous oasis to anothermaking sure the sand dunes cover her exit. But galloping away from this group tracks consequences and a deadly, unmanageable sinkhole.

But, alas, all being English Literature majors, they should have heeded this seminal insight from John Donne in 1624:


"No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine . . ."

John Donne, Meditations XVII.






1) There's a 3rd mystery: why would the foursome accept Cassie as Lexie without the author having to jump genres into speculative fiction?

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