Let’s discuss The Likeness by Tana French.

After recently bashing female novelists, I thought it would be wise to backpedal a little. Today’s book is a fine mystery written by the [more or less] Irish writer, Tana French.

I read and enjoyed French’s 2007 Edgar Award winning In the Woods but was hesitant to pick up The Likeness. The plot seemed improbable, and I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to suspend my disbelief. But at the core of a good book is the writing, and French is an extraordinary stylist.

What’s it about?
Detective Cassie Maddox is called to a murder scene where she discovers the victim is her exact double. Stranger still, the victim is carrying ID identifying her as one Lexie Madison, an alias Cassie once used when she worked undercover. To track down the killer (and identify the victim’s true identity) Cassie again goes undercover, this time stepping into her doppelgänger’s life.

Why read it?
Not for the plausibility of the plot, that’s for sure.

Read it for the writing, the grace of language, the elegance of the prose. French’s descriptive paragraphs are lush and often poignant. Occasionally she overwrites, but it’s worth stumbling though those passages to get to the good stuff. Kind of like reading a female, Irish, James Lee Burke.

Read it for French’s rich, complex characters. Real people are flawed. So, too, is any literary character worth his or her salt. And when I say flawed, I mean flawed – not something put to right by the end of the book. It is how characters deal with their flaws, how they move through life, that makes them interesting on the page and—I will argue this point until I die—makes for interesting fiction. Take Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Character arc? Not really. Flawed? Most certainly. Interesting? Absolutely.

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