“Required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting.” —The New York Times
Now airing as a Starz series.
In the “compellingˮ (The Boston Globe) and “pitch perfectˮ (Entertainment Weekly) follow-up to Tana French’s runaway bestseller In the Woods, Cassie Maddox has transferred out of the Dublin Murder Squad—until an urgent telephone call brings her back to an eerie crime scene.
The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used as an undercover cop. Suddenly, Cassie is back undercover, to find out not only who killed this young woman, but, more importantly, who she was.
The Likeness is a supremely suspenseful story exploring the nature of identity and belonging.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This is Lexie Madison’s story, not mine. I’d love to tell you one without getting into the other, but it doesn’t work that way. I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control.
This much is mine, though: everything I did. Frank puts it all down to the others, mainly to Daniel, while as far as I can tell Sam thinks that, in some obscure and slightly bizarro way, it was Lexie’s fault. When I say it wasn’t like that, they give me careful sideways looks and change the subject—I get the feeling Frank thinks I have some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome.
That does happen to undercovers sometimes, but not this time. I’m not trying to protect anyone; there’s no one left to protect. Lexie and the others will never know they’re taking the blame and wouldn’t care if they did. But give me more credit than that. Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.
This is the main thing you need to know about Alexandra Madison: she never existed. Frank Mackey and I invented her, a long time ago, on a bright summer afternoon in his dusty office on Harcourt Street. He wanted people to infiltrate a drug ring in University College Dublin. I wanted the job, maybe more than I had ever wanted anything in my life.
He was a legend: Frank Mackey, still in his thirties and already running undercover operations; the best Undercover agent Ireland’s ever had, people said, reckless and fearless, a tightrope artist with no net, ever. He walked into IRA cells and criminal gangs like he was walking into his local pub. Everyone had told me the story: when the Snake—a career gangster and five-star wacko, who once left one of his own men quadriplegic for not buying his round—got suspicious and threatened to use a nail gun on Frank’s hands, Frank looked him in the eye without breaking a sweat and bluffed him down till the Snake slapped him on the back and gave him a fake Rolex by way of apology. Frank still wears it.
I was a shiny green rookie, only a year out of Templemore Training College. A couple of days earlier, when Frank had sent out the call for cops who had a college education and could pass for early twenties, I had been wearing a neon yellow vest that was too big for me and patrolling a small town in Sligo where most of the locals looked disturbingly alike. I should have been nervous of him, but I wasn’t, not at all. I wanted the assignment too badly to have room for anything else.
His office door was open and he was sitting on the edge of his desk, wearing jeans and a faded blue T-shirt, flipping through my file. The office was small and had a disheveled look, like he used it mainly for storage. The desk was empty, not even a family photo; on the shelves, paperwork was mixed in with blues CDs, tabloids, a poker set and a woman’s pink cardigan with the tags still on. I decided I liked this guy.
“Cassandra Maddox,” he said, glancing up.
“Yes, sir,” I said. He was average height, stocky but fit, with good shoulders and close-cut brown hair. I’d been expecting someone so nondescript he was practically invisible, maybe the Cancer Man from The X Files, but this guy had rough, blunt features and wide blue eyes, and the kind of presence that leaves heat streaks on the air where he’s been. He wasn’t my type, but I was pretty sure he got a lot of female attention.
“Frank. ‘Sir’ is for desk jockeys.” His accent was old inner-city Dublin, subtle but deliberate, like a challenge. He slid off the desk and held out his hand.
“Cassie,” I said, shaking it.
He pointed at a chair and went back to his perch on the desk. “Says here,” he said, tapping my file, “you’re good under pressure.”
It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about. Back when I was a trainee posted to a scuzzy part of Cork city, I had talked down a panicked teenage schizophrenic who was threatening to cut his own throat with his grandfather’s straight razor. I had almost forgotten about that. It hadn’t occurred to me, till then, that this was probably why I was up for this job.
“I hope so,” I said.
The light through the window was on my face and he gave me a long, considering look. “You can do twenty-one, no problem. Says here you’ve three years of college. Where?”
His eyebrows shot up, mock-impressed. “Ah, a professional. Why didn’t you finish?”
“I developed an unknown-to-science allergy to Anglo-Irish accents,” I told him.
He liked that. “UCD going to bring you out in a rash?”
“I’ll take my antihistamines.”
Frank hopped off his desk and went to the window, motioning me to follow. “OK,” he said. “See that couple down there?”
A guy and a girl, walking up the street, talking. She found keys and let them into a depressing apartment block. “Tell me about them,” Frank said. He leaned back against the window and hooked his thumbs in his belt, watching me.
“They’re students,” I said. “Book bags. They’d been food shopping—the carrier bags from Dunne’s. She’s better off than he is; her jacket was expensive, but he had a patch on his jeans, and not in a trendy way.”
“They a couple? Friends? Flatmates?”
“A couple. They walked closer than friends, tilted their heads closer.”
“They going out long?”
I liked this, the new way my mind was working. “A while, yeah,” I said. Frank cocked an eyebrow like a question, and for a moment I wasn’t sure how I knew; then it clicked. “They didn’t look at each other when they were talking. New couples look at each other all the time; established ones don’t need to check in as often.”
“No, or he’d have automatically gone for his keys as well. That’s her place. She has at least one flatmate, though. They both looked up at a window: checking to see if the curtains were open.”
“How’s their relationship?”
“Good. She made him laugh—guys mostly don’t laugh at a girl’s jokes unless they’re still at the chat-up stage. He was carrying both the Dunne’s bags, and she held the door open for him before she went in: they look after each other.”
Frank gave me a nod. “Nicely done. Undercover’s half intuition—and I don’t mean psychic shite. I mean noticing things and analyzing them, before you even know you’re doing it. The rest is speed and balls. If you’re going to say something or do something, you do it fast and you do it with total conviction. If you stop to second-guess yourself, you’re fucked, possibly dead. You’ll be out of touch a lot, the next year or two. Got family?”
“An aunt and uncle,” I said.
“You’ll be able to contact them, but they won’t be able to contact you. They going to be OK with that?”
“They’ll have to be,” I said.
He was still slouching easily against the window frame, but I caught the sharp glint of blue: he was watching me hard. “This isn’t some Colombian cartel we’re talking about, and you’ll be dealing mostly with the lowest ranks— at first, anyway—but you’ve got to know this job isn’t safe. Half these people are binned out of their heads most of the time, and the other half are very serious about what they do, which means none of them would have any problem with the idea of killing you. That make you nervous?”
“No,” I said, and I meant it. “Not at all.”
“Lovely,” said Frank. “Let’s get coffee and get to work.”
It took me a minute to realize that that was it: I was in. I’d been expecting a three-hour interview and a stack of weird tests with inkblots and questions about my mother, but Frank doesn’t work like that. I still don’t know where, along the way, he made the decision. For a long time, I waited for the right moment to ask him. Now I’m not sure, any more, whether I want to know what he saw in me; what it was that told him I would be good at this.
We got burnt-tasting coffee and a packet of chocolate biscuits from the canteen, and spent the rest of the day coming up with Alexandra Madison. I picked the name—“You’ll remember it better that way,” Frank said. Madison, because it sounds enough like my own surname to make me turn around, and Lexie because when I was a kid that was the name of my imaginary sister. Frank found a big sheet of paper and drew a timeline of her life for me. “You were born in Holles Street Hospital on the first of March 1979. Father, Sean Madison, a minor diplomat, posted in Canada—that’s so we can pull you out fast if we need to: give you a family emergency, and off you go. It also means you can spend your childhood traveling, to explain why nobody knows you.” Ireland is small; everyone’s cousin’s girlfriend went to school with you. “We could make you foreign, but I don’t want you fucking about with an accent. Mother, Caroline Kelly Madison. She got a job?”
“She’s a nurse.”
“Careful. Think faster; keep an eye out for implications. Nurses need a new license for every country. She trained, but she quit working when you were seven and your family left Ireland.
Want brothers and sisters?”
“Sure, why not,” I said. “I’ll have a brother.” There was something intoxicating about this. I kept wanting to laugh, just at the lavish giddy freedom of it: relatives and countries and possibilities spread out in front of me and I could pick whatever I wanted, I could grow up in a palace in Bhutan with seventeen brothers and sisters and a personal chauffeur if I felt like it. I shoved another biscuit into my mouth before Frank could see me smiling and think I wasn’t taking this seriously.
“Whatever your heart desires. He’s six years younger, so he’s in Canada with your parents. What’s his name?”
“Stephen.” Imaginary brother; I had an active fantasy life as a kid.
“Do you get on with him? What’s he like? Faster,” Frank said, when I took a breath.
“He’s a little smart-arse. Football-mad. He fights with our parents all the time, because he’s fifteen, but he still talks to me . . .”
Sun slanting across the scarred wood of the desk. Frank smelled clean, like soap and leather. He was a good teacher, a wonderful teacher; his black Biro scribbled in dates and places and events, and Lexie Madison developed out of nothing like a Polaroid, she curled off the page and hung in the air like incense smoke, a girl with my face and a life from a half-forgotten dream. When did you have your first boyfriend? Where were you living? What was his name? Who dumped who? Why? Frank found an ashtray, flipped a Player’s out of his packet for me. When the sun bars slid off the desk and the sky started to dim outside the window, he spun his chair around, took a bottle of whiskey off a shelf and spiked our coffees: “We’ve earned it,” he said. “Cheers.”
We made her a restless one, Lexie: bright and educated, a good girl all her life, but brought up without the habit of settling and never learned the knack. A little naïve maybe, a little unguarded, too ready to tell you anything you asked without thinking twice. “She’s bait,” Frank said bluntly, “and she has to be the right bait to make the dealers rise. We need her innocent enough that they won’t consider her a threat, respectable enough to be useful to them, and rebellious enough that they won’t wonder why she wants to play.”
By the time we finished, it was dark. “Nice work,” Frank said, folding up the timeline and passing it to me. “There’s a detective training course starting in ten days; I’ll get you into that. Then you’ll come back here and I’ll work with you for a while. When UCD starts back in October, you’ll go in.”
He hooked a leather jacket off the corner of the shelves, switched off the light and shut the door on the dark little office. I walked back to the bus station dazzled, wrapped in magic, floating in the middle of a secret and a brand-new world, with the timeline making little crackling sounds in the pocket of my uniform jacket. It was that quick, and it felt that simple.
I’m not going to get into the long, snarled chain of events that took me from Undercover to Domestic Violence. The abridged version: UCD’s premier speed freak got paranoid and stabbed me, wounded-in-the-line-of-duty got me a place on the Murder squad, the Murder squad got to be a head-wrecker, I got out. It had been years since I’d thought about Lexie and her short shadowy life. I’m not the type to look back over my shoulder, or at least I try hard not to be. Gone is gone; pretending anything else is a waste of time. But now I think I always knew there would be consequences to Lexie Madison. You can’t make a person, a human being with a first kiss and a sense of humor and a favorite sandwich, and then expect her to dissolve back into scribbled notes and whiskeyed coffee when she no longer suits your purposes. I think I always knew she would come back to find me, someday.
It took her four years. She picked her moment carefully. When she came knocking, it was an early morning in April, a few months after the end of my time in Murder, and I was at the firing range.
The range we use is underground in the city center, deep under half the cars in Dublin and a thick layer of smog. I didn’t need to be there—I’ve always been a good shot, and my next qualifying test wasn’t for months—but for the last while I had been waking up way too early for work and way too restless for anything else, and target practice was the only thing I had found that worked the jitters out of me. I took my time adjusting the earmuffs and checking my gun, waited till everyone else was concentrating on their own targets, so they wouldn’t see me galvanizing like an electrocuted cartoon character on the first few shots. Being easily freaked out comes with its own special skill set: you develop subtle tricks to work around it, make sure people don’t notice. Pretty soon, if you’re a fast learner, you can get through the day looking almost exactly like a normal human being.
I never used to be like that. I always figured nerves were for Jane Austen characters and helium-voiced girls who never buy their round; I would no more have turned shaky in a crisis than I would have carried smelling salts around in my reticule. Getting stabbed by the Drug Demon of UCD barely even fazed me. The department shrink spent weeks trying to convince me I was deeply traumatized, but eventually he had to give up, admit I was fine (sort of regretfully; he doesn’t get a lot of stabbed cops to play with, I think he was hoping I would have some kind of fancy complex) and let me go back to work.
Embarrassingly, the one that got me wasn’t a spectacular mass murder or a hostage crisis gone bad or a nice quiet guy with human organs in his Tupperware. My last case in Murder was such a simple one, so much like dozens of others, nothing to warn us: just a little girl dead on a summer morning, and my partner and me goofing off in the squad room when the call came in. From outside, it even went well. Officially, we got a solve in barely a month, society was saved from the evildoer, it looked all pretty in the media and in the end-of-year stats. There was no dramatic car chase, no shootout, nothing like that; I was the one who came off worst, physically anyway, and all I had was a couple of scratches on my face. They didn’t even leave scars. Such a happy ending, all round.
Underneath, though. Operation Vestal: say it to one of the Murder squad, even now, even one of the guys who don’t know the whole story, and you’ll get that instant look, hands and eyebrows going up meaningfully as he distances himself from the clusterfuck and the collateral damage. In every way that mattered, we lost and we lost big. Some people are little Chernobyls, shimmering with silent, spreading poison: get anywhere near them and every breath you take will wreck you from the inside out. Some cases—ask any cop—are malignant and incurable, devouring everything they touch.
I came out with a variety of symptoms that would have made the shrink bounce up and down in his little leather sandals, except that mercifully it didn’t occur to anyone to send me to the shrink for a scratched face. It was your standard-issue trauma stuff—shaking, not eating, sticking to the ceiling every time the doorbell or the phone rang—with a few ornamentations of my own. My coordination went funny; for the first time in my life I was tripping on my own feet, bumping into doorjambs, bonking my head off cupboards. And I stopped dreaming. Before, I had always dreamed in great wild streams of images, pillars of fire spinning across dark mountains, vines exploding through solid brick, deer leaping down Sandymount beach wrapped in ropes of light; afterwards, I got thick black sleep that hit me like a mallet the second my head touched the pillow. Sam—my boyfriend, although that idea still startled me sometimes—said to give it time, it would all wear off. When I told him I wasn’t so sure, he nodded peacefully and said that would wear off too. Every now and then Sam got right up my nose.
I considered the traditional cop solution—booze, early and often—but I was scared I would end up phoning inappropriate people at three in the morning to spill my guts, plus I discovered that target practice anaesthetized me almost as well and without any messy side effects. This made almost no sense, given the way I was reacting to loud noises in general, but I was OK with that. After the first few shots a fuse would blow in the back of my brain and the rest of the world vanished somewhere faint and far away, my hands turned rock-steady on the gun and it was just me and the paper target, the hard familiar smell of powder in the air and my back braced solid against the recoil. I came out calm and numb as if I’d been Valiumed. By the time the effect wore off, I had made it through another day at work and I could go whack my head off sharp corners in the comfort of my own home. I’d got to the point where I could make nine head shots out of ten, at forty yards, and the wizened little man who ran the range had started looking at me with a horse trainer’s eye and making noises about the department championships.
I finished up around seven, that morning. I was in the locker room, cleaning my gun and trying to shoot the breeze with two guys from Vice without giving them the impression that I wanted to go get breakfast, when my mobile phone rang.
“Jesus,” one of the Vice boys said. “You’re DV, aren’t you? Who has the energy to beat up his missus at this hour?”
“You can always make time for the things that really matter,” I said, digging my locker key out of my pocket.
“Maybe it’s black ops,” said the younger guy, grinning at me. “Looking for sharpshooters.” He was big and redheaded, and he thought I was cute. He had his muscles arranged to full advantage, and I had caught him checking out my ring finger.
“Must’ve heard we weren’t available,” said his mate.
I fished the phone out of my locker. The screen said SAM O’NEILL, and the missed-call icon was flashing at me in one corner.
“Hi,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Cassie,” Sam said. He sounded terrible: breathless and sick, as if someone had punched the wind out of him. “Are you OK?”
I turned my shoulder to the Vice guys and moved off into a corner. “I’m fine. Why? What’s wrong?”
“Jesus Christ,” Sam said. He made a hard little noise like his throat was too tight. “I called you four times. I was about to send someone over to your place looking for you. Why didn’t you answer your bloody phone?”
This was not like Sam. He’s the gentlest guy I’ve ever known. “I’m at the firing range,” I said.
“It was in my locker. What’s happened?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to . . . sorry.” He made that harsh little sound again. “I got called out. On a case.”
My heart gave one huge whap against my rib cage. Sam is on the Murder squad. I knew I should probably sit down for this, but I couldn’t make my knees bend. I leaned back against the lockers instead.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“What? No—God, no, it’s not . . . I mean, it’s not anyone we know. Or anyway I don’t think—Listen, can you come down here?”
My breath came back. “Sam,” I said. “What the hell is going on?”
“Just . . . can you just come? We’re in Wicklow, outside Glenskehy. You know it, right? If you follow the signs, go through Glenskehy village and keep going straight south, about three-quarters of a mile on there’s a little lane to your right—you’ll see the crime-scene tape. We’ll meet you there.”
The Vice boys were starting to look interested. “My shift starts in an hour,” I said. “It’ll take me that long just to get out there.”
“I’ll call it in. I’ll tell DV we need you.”
“You don’t. I’m not in Murder any more, Sam. If this is a murder case, it’s nothing to do with me.”
A guy’s voice in the background: a firm, easy drawl, hard to ignore; familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “Hang on,” Sam said.
I clamped the phone between my ear and my shoulder and started fitting my gun back together. If it wasn’t someone we knew, then it had to be a bad one, to make Sam sound like that; very bad. Irish homicides are still, mostly, simple things: drug fights, burglaries gone wrong, SOS killings (Spouse On Spouse or, depending who you ask, Same Old Shite), this elaborate family feud in Limerick that’s been screwing up the figures for decades. We’ve never had the orgies of nightmare that other countries get: the serial killers, the ornate tortures, the basements lined with bodies thick as autumn leaves. But it’s only a matter of time, now. For ten years Dublin’s been changing faster than our minds can handle. The economic boom has given us too many people with helicopters and too many crushed into cockroachy flats from hell, way too many loathing their lives in fluorescent cubicles, enduring for the weekend and then starting all over again, and we’re fracturing under the weight of it. By the end of my stint in Murder I could feel it coming: felt the high sing of madness in the air, the city hunching and twitching like a rabid dog building towards the rampage. Sooner or later, someone had to pull the first horror case.
We don’t have official profilers, but the Murder guys, who mostly didn’t go to college and who were more impressed by my psychology semi-degree than they should have been, used to use me. I was OK at it; I read textbooks and statistics a lot, in my spare time, trying to catch up. Sam’s cop instincts would have overridden his protective ones and he would have called me in, if he needed to; if he’d got to a scene and found something bad enough.
“Hang on,” the redhead said. He had switched out of display mode and was sitting up straight on his bench. “You used to be in Murder?” This right here was exactly why I hadn’t wanted to get chummy. I had heard that avid note way too many times, over the past few months.
“Once upon a time,” I said, giving him my sweetest smile and my you-do-not-want-to-go-there look.
Redser’s curiosity and his libido had a quick duel; apparently he figured out that his libido’s chances were slim to none anyway, because the curiosity won. “You’re the one who worked that case, right?” he said, sliding a few lockers closer. “The dead kid. What’s the real story?”
“All the rumors are true,” I told him. On the other end of the phone Sam was having a muffled argument, short frustrated questions cut off by that easy drawl, and I knew that if the redhead would just shut up for a second I could work out who it was.
“I heard your partner went mental and shagged a suspect,” Redser informed me, helpfully.
“I wouldn’t know,” I said, trying to disentangle myself from my bulletproof vest without losing the phone. My first instinct was—still—to tell him to do something creative to himself, but neither my ex-partner’s mental status nor his love life was my problem, not any more.
Sam came back on the phone sounding even more tense and rattled. “Can you wear sunglasses, and a hood or a hat or something?”
I stopped with my vest half over my head. “What the hell?”
"Please, Cassie,” Sam said, and he sounded strained to breaking point. "Please.”
I drive an ancient, bockety Vespa, which is like totally uncool in a town where you are what you spend, but which has its uses. In city traffic it moves about four times as fast as your average SUV, I can actually park it, and it provides a handy social shortcut, in that anyone who gives it a snotty look is probably not going to be my new best friend. Once I got out of the city, it was perfect bike weather. It had rained during the night, furious sleety rain slapping at my window, but that had blown itself out by dawn and the day was sharp and blue, the first of almost-spring. Other years, on mornings like this one, I used to drive out into the countryside and sing at the top of my lungs into the wind at the edge of the speed limit.
Glenskehy is outside Dublin, tucked away in the Wicklow mountains near nothing very much. I’d lived half my life in Wicklow without getting any closer to it than the odd signpost. It turned out to be that kind of place: a scatter of houses getting old around a once-a-month church and a pub and a sell-everything shop, small and isolated enough to have been overlooked even by the desperate generation trawling the countryside for homes they can afford. Eight o’clock on a Thursday morning, and the main street—to use both words loosely—was postcard-perfect and empty, just one old woman pulling a shopping cart past a worn granite monument to something or other, little sugared-almond houses lined up crookedly behind her, and the hills rising green and brown and indifferent over it all. I could imagine someone getting killed there, but a farmer in a generations-old fight over a boundary fence, a woman whose man had turned savage with drink and cabin fever, a man sharing a house with his brother forty years too long: deep-rooted, familiar crimes old as Ireland, nothing to make a detective as experienced as Sam sound like that.
And that other voice on the phone was nagging at me. Sam is the only detective I know who doesn’t have a partner. He likes flying solo, working every case with a new team—local uniforms who want a hand from an expert, pairs from the Murder squad who need a third man on a big case. Sam can get along with anyone, he’s the perfect backup man, and I wished I knew which of the people I used to work with he was backing up this time.
Outside the village the road narrowed, twisting upwards among bright gorse bushes, and the fields got smaller and rockier. There were two men standing on the crest of the hill. Sam, fair and sturdy and tense, feet planted apart and hands in his jacket pockets; and a few feet from him, someone else, head up, leaning back against the stiff wind. The sun was still low in the sky and their long shadows turned them giant and portentous, silhouetted almost too bright to look at against skimming clouds, like two messengers walking out of the sun and down the shimmering road. Behind them, crime-scene tape fluttered and whipped.
Sam raised his hand when I waved. The other guy cocked his head sideways, one fast tilt like a wink, and I knew who it was.
“Fuck me briefly,” I said, before I was even off the Vespa. “It’s Frankie. Where did you come from?”
Frank grabbed me off the ground in a one-armed hug. Four years hadn’t managed to change him one bit; I was pretty sure he was even wearing the same banged-up leather jacket. “Cassie Maddox,” he said. “World’s best fake student. How’ve you been? What’s all this about DV?”
“I’m saving the world. They gave me a lightsaber and all.” I caught Sam’s confused frown out of the corner of my eye—I don’t talk much about undercover, I’m not sure he’d ever heard me mention Frank’s name—but it was only when I turned to him that I realized he looked awful, white around the mouth and his eyes too wide. Something inside me clenched: a bad one.
“How’re you doing?” I asked him, pulling off my helmet.
“Grand,” Sam said. He tried to smile at me, but it came out lopsided.
“Oo,” Frank said, mock-camp, holding me at arm’s length and eyeballing me. “Check you out. Is this what the well-dressed detective is wearing these days?” The last time he had seen me, I’d been in combats and a top that said “Miss Kitty’s House of Fun Wants YOU.”
“Bite me, Frank,” I told him. “At least I’ve changed my gear once or twice in the last few years.”
“No, no, no, I’m impressed. Very executive.” He tried to spin me round; I batted his hand away. Just for the record, I was not dressed like Hillary Clinton here. I was wearing my work clothes—black trouser suit, white shirt—and I wasn’t that crazy about them myself, but when I switched to Domestic Violence my new superintendent kept going on at me about the importance of projecting an appropriate corporate image and building public confidence, which apparently cannot be done in jeans and a T-shirt, and I didn’t have the energy to resist. “Bring sunglasses and a hoodie or something?” Frank asked. “They’ll go great with this getup.”
“You brought me down here to discuss my fashion sense?” I inquired. I found an ancient red beret in my satchel and waved it at him.
“Nah, we’ll get back to that some other time. Here, have these.” Frank pulled sunglasses out of his pocket, repulsive mirrored things that belonged on Don Johnson in 1985, and passed them to me.
“If I’m going to go around looking like that much of a dork,” I said, eyeing them, “there had better be a damn good explanation.”
“We’ll get to that. If you don’t like those, you can always wear your helmet. ” Frank waited till I shrugged and put on the dork gear. The buzz of seeing him had dissolved and my back was tensing up again. Sam looking sick, Frank on the case and not wanting me spotted at the scene: it read a lot like an undercover had got killed.
“Gorgeous as always,” Frank said. He held the crime-scene tape for me to duck under, and it was so familiar, I had made that quick easy movement so many times, that for a split second it felt like coming home. I automatically settled my gun at my belt and glanced over my shoulder for my partner, as if this was my own case I were coming to, before I remembered.
“Here’s the story,” Sam said. “At about quarter past six this morning, a local fella called Richard Doyle was walking his dog along this lane. He let it off the lead to have a run about in the fields. There’s a ruined house not far off the lane, and the dog went in and wouldn’t come out; in the end, Doyle had to go after it. He found the dog sniffing around the body of a woman. Doyle grabbed the dog, legged it out of there and rang the uniforms.”
I relaxed a little: I didn’t know any other women from Undercover. “And I’m here why?” I asked. “Not to mention you, sunshine. Did you transfer into Murder and no one told me?”
“You’ll see,” Frank said. I was following him down the lane and I could only see the back of his head. “Believe me, you’ll see.”
What People are Saying About This
" [Tana French] aces her second novel. The Likeness [is a] nearly pitch- perfect follow-up to her 2007 debut thriller, In the Woods."
" The Likeness [is] a book even better than the first, which was very good indeed. . . . The suspense is gut-grinding . . . A wonderful book."
-New York Daily News
" For The Likeness, [French] has brought back detective Cassie Maddox and fashioned a plot that harks back to both Donna Tartt and Wilkie Collins."
-The Washington Post
" [French's] already signature blend of psychological insight, beautiful writing and wry humor is on display once more in The Likeness."
-The Baltimore Sun
Reading Group Guide
The follow-up to Tana French's bestselling debut In the Woods finds Detective Cassie Maddox shaken from the events of a dangerous murder investigation and working a desk job in Domestic Violence at police headquarters in Dublin, Ireland. She's just settling into her new suits and a quieter, if less satisfying, life when her boyfriend Detective Sam O'Neill calls her to the scene of a murder. Cassie looks at the victim, stabbed in the chest and left for dead in a ramshackle rural cottage, and finds her mirror image. Identification reveals the victim's name is Lexie Madison—the very same handle Cassie once used as an undercover agent.
With no leads or suspects to speak of, Cassie's boss, Frank Mackey, recognizes a unique opportunity: they can pretend that Lexie survived the stabbing and Cassie can go undercover as Lexie to solve the crime. At first, Cassie is reluctant to play along, but as she learns more about the case—and its mysterious victim—she realizes that the only way to exorcise the dead girl from her mind is to go into her life and find out what happened to her.
Posing as Lexie, Cassie becomes a graduate student at Trinity College and moves in with Lexie's four roommates, a close but odd and anachronistic bunch sharing and rehabbing an old country estate named Whitethorn House. The roommates, accepting her story, seem to receive Lexie's return warmly and their idyllic life is practically a vacation for Cassie. Amid the lively crew, the guarded detective, orphaned at an early age, finds an unexpected sense of belonging. Soon, though, Cassie learns that Whitethorn is the subject of local lore and a decades-long target of village hostility. And as Cassie goes deeper into Lexie's world she realizes that Lexie's secrets may be more dangerous than anyone imagined. Meanwhile, Frank and Sam worry that Cassie is getting a little too close to Lexie for comfort, endangering the investigation and, quite possibly, her own life in the process.
With her richly nuanced characters and deep psychological insight, Tana French explores themes of self-invention, deception, and the ways truth can emerge from even the most convincing disguises. Set against a backdrop of tightly knit class and cultural tensions, The Likeness goes beyond the conventions of the whodunit to comment on the inequities and misguided values of modern society. In her second novel, French, a seasoned actress, proves that she's also a writer of distinction. Her taut and riveting narrative enchants and thrills at every turn.
ABOUT TANA FRENCH
Tana French is the author of the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award–winning thriller In the Woods. She has lived in Ireland, Italy, the United States, and Malawi. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where she lives, and has worked in film, theater, and voiceover.
A CONVERSATION WITH TANA FRENCH
Q. The Likeness picks up where your first book left off, and while the events of In the Woods inform some of the action here, this story is told from a different character's perspective. Why did you decide to write a follow-up rather than a straight-ahead sequel?
I want to write about the crucial turning points in life, the crossroads that make all the difference; those moments when you know that once you make your choice, your life will never be in the same place it would have been if you'd chosen the other way. In the Woods was about that crucial moment in Rob Ryan's life, but the thing is that any given lifetime just doesn't contain all that many of those moments. So when I started thinking about my second book, I had three choices: keep dumping the poor guy into huge life-defining decisions; lower the stakes and write about less important parts of his life; or switch the narrator. I thought the last one was the most interesting, so I moved on to Cassie. I figured she deserved a book of her own anyway.
Q. Early on in the book, Cassie Maddox describes a profile of the killer. Did you consult with detectives about criminal profiling or draw on your own insight about human nature?
A little of both. Cassie isn't a trained profiler—the Irish police force doesn't have trained profilers; when they need one, they work with someone from the United States. or the U.K. She's just fallen into being the Murder squad's resident profiler by accident. Because she studied psychology in college, her colleagues use her as a fallback profiler, so she's studied it as much as she can so as not to steer them wrong. This made it a whole lot easier for me to match her knowledge. I just did what Cassie would have done: read all the books and case studies I could get my hands on.
Profiling does involve a certain amount of basic knowledge of human nature. If a criminal takes his time at a crime scene, just for example, that implies that he's quite comfortable there and has a high degree of confidence that he won't be interrupted; in other words, there's a good chance that he has prior knowledge about the location. That's common sense. But a huge amount of profiling is based on statistics—some of them counterintuitive—about crime patterns. If the stats tell you that 95 percent of knife attacks in a certain city are committed by white males aged between sixteen and twenty, and you're investigating a knife attack, then you know there's a 95 percent chance that you're looking for a teenaged white male. Real profilers build their profiles on a combination of these elements: probability based on the statistics, and intuition based on their professional experience and their knowledge of human nature. I tried to do the same with Cassie's attempts at profiling.
Q. As an actor, do you see parallels between the process of going undercover and the process of creating or embodying a fictional character?
Definitely, but the parallels have a limit. In acting, in writing a first-person novel, and in going undercover, your goal is basically to keep out of the way as much as possible: to speak for the character, as thoroughly and deeply as possible, and let your audience see the character rather than you.
The difference is obvious, but it's also crucial: in writing and acting, the audience isn't intended to think that the fictional character is real. Their imaginations work together with the writer's or actor's to create the character; it's a collaborative process. In undercover work, though, there's nothing collaborative about it. The "audience" isn't in on the process; they're supposed to believe that the fictional character is completely real. The undercover is carefully, intently trying to deceive them, and the stakes are life and death and serious jail time. Undercover work is much darker, and much more morally charged.
Q. The idea of hiding behind another persona in order to escape a painful past is a recurring theme in this book—most obviously with Cassie and Lexie but we also see it with the other inhabitants of Whitethorn House. Is there any way in which posing as someone else can be a healthy exercise? Do you think a person has to be wounded in some sense to pull off the charade successfully?
On the contrary, actually, I think that the stronger and healthier a person is, the more likely it is that he or she can do a good job of being someone else. To go back to the acting parallel, I know some people do cling to the cliché that only damaged people become actors, and I think that's understandable. There have always been people who see any imaginative process as deeply threatening, so they have a frantic need to say that there must be something wrong with anyone who does it. But I remember my acting teacher telling our class, Unless you can be yourself truthfully and openly, you can't be someone else. The better you are at being yourself, the better you are at being other people. It's true. Playing a character shouldn't be a pose, or a charade, or a way to hide from yourself. It should be an attempt to reach a truth that can't be reached in any other way. For any serious actor, that's what it is. When it's anything else, it becomes both dishonest and dangerous.
The same goes for Cassie. She's essentially a strong, secure, happy-natured person, very comfortable being herself—that's what makes her a good undercover, able to be someone else with conviction and sincerity. At the beginning of The Likeness, though, she's been badly traumatized by the events of In the Woods. For her, in that condition, the process of becoming Lexie Madison is a double-edged sword. It's healing, because by doing a good job of being Lexie she finds her feet in her own identity again; but it's also deeply dangerous, because her own borderlines have been damaged so badly that she's not grounded enough to stop herself blurring into Lexie. And Lexie isn't a particularly healthy person to blur into.
Q. Did you know when you first set out with this book who the murderer was or was that a discovery you made as you wrote?
Here's the defining fact about my writing process: I have no clue what I'm doing. I start with a narrator, a kernel of a premise, and a whole lot of coffee. From there, I just dive in and hope.
I think it's because I'm coming from an acting background. I'm used to taking characters as my starting point, and when I start on a book, I don't know the characters well enough to know what they would do, where they're coming from or where they're headed. As I get to know them better, the shape of the book develops gradually in my head, like a Polaroid. (It makes for an awful lot of rewriting. I'm wildly jealous of authors who have the whole book outlined before they ever start writing.) When I started this book, I had no idea who the victim was or why the heck anyone would want to kill her, never mind who the killer was. As the characters and their relationships developed, though, it became clear that Lexie Madison could be a lot more dangerous than she looked and that whether she intended to or not, she was threatening the people around her in a variety of ways—and, finally, which one of those people was capable of taking the huge leap to murder.
Q. There's an undercurrent of class conflict and English/Irish hostility bubbling beneath the plot in this novel. Are these issues necessary to the telling of this particular story or are they simply part of the rural Irish landscape in which it's set?
I think they're an inextricable part of the story. They're a crucial part of Ireland's past, and one of the core things I was thinking about while I wrote this book is the relationship between past, present and future: how they define and redefine one another, how we try and often fail to balance the three.
This is, I think, the major question that Ireland's dealing with right now: when the past and the present crash into each other at a hundred miles an hour, how do you balance the two without wrecking both? Over the past ten or fifteen years, the country's changed faster than our minds can deal with, and we're still trying to assimilate the changes and find healthy ways of dealing with them. Because this is a question that surrounds me every day, it surfaced in the book: all the characters are trying, from different angles, to find ways to balance past, present and future. The house's past, and Ireland's past, are woven into that process.
Q. Whitethorn House has a powerful effect on people—it is wondrous and inspiring to its inhabitants but malevolent and threatening to the townsfolk of Glenskehey. In many of your descriptions the house is animated and alive. Do you think of the house as a character in its own right?
Definitely, but it's a fluid character, one that's defined by the other characters and defined differently by each one. It becomes a mirror reflecting what they want or need to see—it's a home, a haven, a threat, an inspiration, a symbol of oppression, a golden opportunity. In that way, it's a lot like Lexie herself. She puts her finger on what each of the other characters needs to see, and then she turns herself into that.
Q. Troubled though he may be, Daniel makes an eloquent argument when he critiques contemporary culture and tells Cassie about his vision for Whitethorn House. Do you agree with his views and is this an important theme in your writing?
I don't exactly agree with Daniel—he's a little extreme, if that's the word I'm looking for—but I think he has a couple of good points. At one stage he quotes a Spanish proverb: "Take what you want and pay for it, says God."
That proverb's a lot more complicated than it sounds. We're surrounded by media and other outside forces telling us what we want: You want more stuff! You want bigger stuff! You want stuff you've never even heard of! You want an SUV and new teeth and 2.4 kids! You want to be thinner! You want to be blonder! And on and on and on. It can be hard to ignore all the shouting and figure out what you actually want—which might well be none of the above. And if you don't know, if you allow yourself to be shaped by other people's views on what you should want, then it's dangerously easy to lose hold of your own life. For Daniel, that's one of the two core elements of being an adult: the ability to work out what you want most.
And in the proverb, that crucial question comes with an equally crucial corollary: what you want isn't free. The other thing we get told an awful lot in Western society is that you can have anything as long as you believe in it. There's no mention of having to pay for it—with hard work, with sacrifices, whatever. And the reality is that life does demand payment. Choose between the security of a bank job and your dream of being a musician; choose between staying home with your children or keeping your career moving. Whichever you choose, you pay for it with the other. It's a law of nature, it's one we're told to ignore, and it's one that we can't escape no matter how hard we try.
For Daniel, the two essentials of being an adult human being are knowing what you want and making the commitment to pay for it. What he wants may be a little weird, but he does know what it is, and he's certainly willing to pay for it.
Q. There's not a single sex scene in this book yet between the lines, sexual relationships deeply influence the dynamic between characters. Was it a conscious decision for you to keep sex as subtext in this book?
Part of it was a deliberate choice. I'm not big on spelling things out anyway. I think almost everything—especially powerful stuff like sex and violence—is stronger if it's not hammered home, if the reader is allowed to engage his or her imagination. In In the Woods, the most violent thing that happens "onstage" is someone scratching someone else's face. In The Likeness, the most sexually explicit thing that happens is a kiss.
And part of it was inherent to the book. There's a stage in life, somewhere around high school and college, when the most important people in your world are your friends. You're moving away from your original family, but you're not yet at the age when people are forming lifelong romantic relationships—one of the gang might get a boyfriend or girlfriend and fade away for a couple of months, but everyone knows he'll be back sooner or later. The crucial people are this group of friends, some of them close, some of them a little less close, who surround you.
That's the stage the main characters in this book are at. They're one another's world. And at that stage, sex within the group is a dangerous thing: it could wreck your whole delicate, hard-won balance. So, no matter how highly charged those relationships get, the characters fight to hide the sexual tension from each other and even from themselves. Sex is kept to subtext in the book because it's kept to subtext by the characters—with an immense effort of will that comes at a high price.
Q. The fact that Lexie Madison looks exactly like Cassie and steals her undercover identity is something of an improbable premise. How did you take a fanciful idea and turn it into a believable story?
I knew from the start that I'd bitten off a lot with that premise—the dubious look on my fiancé's face when I told him the idea said it all! But I like a challenge. And I loved the image of the detective looking down at her own dead face, the thought of finding your double when it's too late, when she's beyond reach—when the only way to get to know her is to become her. I didn't want to ditch the idea. I was too interested in finding out what would happen next. So I knew I had to find a way to make it work.
I did it (well, I hope I did it!) by focusing on the same things Cassie and Frank would have had to focus on as they prepared for the moment when Cassie goes into Lexie's life: the practical details, the nuances of personal relationships, all the layers that go into making up a solid, believable reality. Also, Lexie stealing Cassie's undercover identity doesn't turn out to be quite as much of a coincidence as it originally appears.