“Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.”
The first line of Tana French’s The Likeness tells you much of what you need to know about the novel: The house is key to what happens, as are ideals of home, family, and belonging. But it all revolves around protecting the house while its spell controls and defines the lives of those who live under its graceful roof.
Central to life inside Whitethorn is Daniel, who inherited the house from his bachelor uncle, and the friends he has chosen in graduate school: Abby, Rafe, Justin, and Lexie. He’s carefully curated his friendships to build his own family, with one unbreakable rule: No pasts.
When Lexie gets murdered, her doppelganger, Detective Cassie Maddox, takes her place in the house to try to solve the crime. Adding to the mystery is the fact that, when she worked in undercover, Cassie invented Lexie. She knows that whoever this woman is, she’s not Lexie because Lexie is not real.
What follows is a French-style psychological thriller, with an emphasis on character development, showing how people who are broken damage themselves and one another while searching for belonging. To the five main characters in this compelling narrative that means complete fealty to their homemade family. When that bond breaks, nothing else can hold.
Some of this is difficult to buy. Do the people who spend all day, every day with Lexie not notice that Cassie is a different person, no matter the physical resemblance and preparation? But it’s easy to dispel disbelief and just dig into this deeply-told tale.
A conversation between Daniel and Cassie-as-Lexie shows that Daniel understood the bargain he was making with his friends and his house:
“There’s a Spanish proverb,” he said, “that’s always fascinated me. “Take what you want and pay for it, says God.'”
“I don’t believe in God,” Daniel said, “but that principle seems, to me, to have a divinity of its own; a kind of blazing purity. What could be simpler, or more crucial? You can have anything you want, as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”
The Likeness explores that price. As in other books in the Dublin Murder Squad series, most of the pieces fall together at the end, but French leaves us to make our own sense of much of it. Just like life.
— Pat Prijatel