An Improbable Premise Improbably Well Done

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Title: The Likeness

Rating: 4 Stars

I enjoy reading Tana French. The first one I read, which was her first, In the Woods, actually put me off. It starts off with a huge mystery (what happened to Adam?) that is never resolved. The killer gets away and the wonderful chemistry between the two homicide partners gets destroyed in the process. It was not exactly a wonderful cup of tea.

Without a doubt, it was well written, and if I read it again now, I’m sure that I’d enjoy it more now that I kind of understand her style.

There is usually a semi-mystical nature to her plots. This usually puts me off, but she does such a good job with it that I feel drawn into the premise, no matter how improbable.

In this case, a woman is murdered. She happens to be a body double of a detective. Above and beyond that, the name that the victim was using was one that the detective used when she was working undercover.

The police decide to keep the victim’s death a secret and claim that she was only seriously injured. After a period of ‘recovery’, the detective rejoins the house (where four possible suspects live), impersonating the victim to try to get the housemates to reveal themselves.

The housemates (including the victim) are basically five people that have somehow found each other and have formed a strong familial bond. They pretty much spend every waking moment together.

So, of course, there’s the improbability. Being that intimate, the detective’s cover should have been blown in five minutes. In fact, she spends a month with them and only one ever gets even a glimmer of suspicion. It seems like such a huge problem that I didn’t read it for a long time because it seemed so ridiculous.

However…

French does a quite job of it. It helps that she builds such strong characters. You identify with them and want them to be successful, so I was rooting for the detective even though it seemed impossible.

In hindsight (and what keeps this from being five stars) is that the characters, although well written, are predictable. There’s the gay sensitive one, the handsome artistic one, the mother hen, and the stolid authority father figure. I suppose that’s kind of the point; these characters all came from difficult upbringings, so they were able to build a perfect family out of themselves. Of course, in literature, pretty much anything built from man will be torn asunder, and there’s no exception here.

I do recommend reading all of French’s novels. They should be read in order, since a relatively minor character in one will be a major character in the next, so it is interesting watching the character change when the spotlight is shone on him/her. Of course, in some cases, this can be dangerous (for those interested, click on my Less is Sometimes Really More post), but French consistently does a good job doing this.

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