Bustle's I'm So Jealous series is dedicated to the books, TV shows, movies, podcasts, and more that super fans are so jealous someone else gets to experience for the first time. In this installment, Gabrielle Moss writes about Tana French's The Likeness, the second novel in the author's acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series.
I read Tana French’s first novel, In The Woods, while on vacation with a boy who was very clearly about to dump me. I wasn’t a mystery reader at the time. In fact, I believed the genre was totally riddled with cliches about sad cops and hot dead women. But I grabbed French’s novel in the Vienna airport anyway. I guess I hoped a book about corpses could distract me from the corpse of my relationship. In The Woods was excellently written, but not all that different than what I had anticipated: emotionally tortured male cop, dead girl, shocking secret in a small town, yada yada.
A year later, while in another protracted break-up — yes, I now understand that the problem was me — I wanted a book to take my mind off it all. I bought French’s second novel, The Likeness, a sequel to In the Woods, without even flipping through it. I thought I was in for more gentle, murder-y distraction.
But from the first line, I knew I was wrong. It opens not in a police station or murderer’s lair, but in a dream: “Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.” It echoes the opening of one of the great gothic novels, Daphne du Marier’s Rebecca: “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderlay again.” It’s an opening that isn’t about tormented dudes, gnarly crimes, or beautiful dead women. It was about a female cop’s confused inner life, the haunted house inside her head. I started reading on Friday night, and put the book down on Sunday evening understanding all the places a book about a crime could take you. I was now a mystery fan.
So what changed me? It wasn’t just the plot, though it's great: Police officer Cassie Maddox goes undercover to help solve a seemingly impossible crime — the murder of a woman who looks exactly like her. Cassie takes over the dead woman’s life, living in her house with her intensely close-knit roommates, all of whom seem to know something. There are decaying mansions, secret meetings, shocking twists, and also spooky antique furniture. It’s like the high gothic dreaminess of The Secret History got transplanted into an episode of The Fall.
But what got me was Cassie Maddox herself. Cassie isn’t some hard-drinking caricature, or a generic “regular” person. She’s brilliant, anxious, angry, angsty, and a total weirdo. Cassie does all the normal police novel stuff (gets too close to the case, neglects her loved ones, etc.) but she also gets lost in the surreal thrill of wandering through someone else’s life, of being a living ghost. She isn't someone I'd like to be friends with. But listening to the things in her head turned out to be a lot more interesting than listening to another guy tell me he just wasn't into me.
If you’re picking up The Likeness for the first time: Don’t worry if you zone out during the parts with Sam, Cassie’s boyfriend — he never figures into the main plot.
If you love it and want more of the same: Make sure to read French's previous book, In The Woods, while all the characters are still fresh in your mind, because it’ll help you understand the stuff with Rob.
And if this book converts you into a member of the Cult of Tana: Know that not every single book she writes is a winner. Some, in fact, are kind of messes. But you never know what she'll do next, just like Cassie Maddox. And that's enough to keep me worshipping.