Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who are we anyway?

The Likeness is the second novel by Tana French that features detective Cassie Maddox.  In the first novel, In the Woods, Maddox works with Rob (nee Adam) Ryan to solve a murder case.  We learn in the first novel that Cassie had at one time worked undercover.  While Rob and Cassie identify the doer in the first novel, there is a problem which precludes really nailing the main culprit.  Partly as a result of the snafu, Rob and Cassie split, and Cassie finds herself working Domestic Violence cases-- not homicides.

When I finished The Likeness I read through some of the surprisingly glowing reviews.  My comments are not as glowing.  I did spot one reviewer comment that resonated. The critic wrote "The premise was intriguing, the promise was there; it just took too long to get there."


This 466 page novel could have been a very good short story of fifty pages or so.  There is one preposterous postulate upon which the story is based, and that would be a problem even with a short story, but the message could have been one that lingered nevertheless.

Who are we, anyway?  Am I Alan Zaremba a former college professor turned administrator?  That is what my resume suggests, but could that just be who I am for this stretch.  Might I just as easily become someone else entirely with a different job, living in a different city, with a different spouse. And could there be a time when I could not be sure who the hell I was even though I had been, up to that point of self doubt, certain I was what my resume said I was.

I don't recommend this book. It is too long, just dawdles too much and, contrary to some of the comments in the reviews, I do not think it is particularly well written. That said, it is intriguing if you go beyond the plot line.

It's a mystery, a whodunit, so if you gobble mysteries voraciously, you may want to read it. And there sure are a lot of people who liked it judging by the Amazon reviews. If, however, you are a reader of my blogs and tend to agree with my take on novels, I think there are better ways to spend your reading time.

Here's the premise.  Cassie is surprised one day to receive a phone call asking her to come to a murder scene.  She is surprised because she no longer works in Murder but rather is involved with Domestic Violence.  She protests but is told that there is something about this case that is different.  So, she goes to the scene of the crime where she sees her boyfriend (not Rob) who is near the body but as white as a proverbial ghost.  Cassie goes to look at the body and is taken aback because the dead woman looks exactly like her.  Cassie has no twin, no sibling of any sort, but this murdered person looks just like her.  If that is not enough to stun her, she is aghast when she sees the identification card of the murder victim.  The dead person has been using the name that Cassie used when she worked undercover: Lexie Madison.  Somehow this dead person became the fictitious person, Lexie Madison, who Cassie had pretended to be.  She stares at the dead person, essentially looking at herself or her fake self.

This dead Lexie Madison lived with four others, three men and a woman in a sort of commune. The four housemates become prime suspects.  The plan to solve the murder is for the detectives to tell the housemates that Lexie miraculously survived a stabbing. Then Cassie--the look alike--was to come back to the house, pretend she was Lexie and sleuth out who had murdered Lexie.  But, of course, not only is Cassie not Lexie, but Lexie is not Lexie since Lexie was a made up person in the first place.

In the course of pretending to be Lexie, Cassie kind of sorta becomes Lexie, and a member of the commune.  Meanwhile the reader finds out how the dead person came to be Lexie, which she did by changing lives several times in various countries.

What is preposterous, of course, is that no matter how much of a look alike you are to someone else, someone who knows you well will pick up on mannerisms that are different.  So, the notion that Cassie could pass as Lexie without suspicion is suspicious.

But if you suspend that disbelief, (and knock out about 400 pages) this is an interesting tale.

Can we change on a whim and then become another. And if we can, well, who are we anyway? Who is anyone?

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