BookBin2010: The Likeness

[Loba Note: This is another post that I started a while ago and have just now finished.]

Maybe mystery novels simply aren’t my cup of tea. I know I’ve read them before, but I also know that I can’t tell you anything about any of my previous attempts. And now, here I sit, trying to figure out a nice way to state how much I disliked yet another mystery written by Tana French. This time, as I mentioned when I reviewed her first book, In the Woods, I read her follow-up, The Likeness.

As I pointed out in my review of In the Woods, my major hurdle with that book was that I felt that French, while an admirable word nerd, didn’t create what I felt was a believable male protagonist. To me, the emotional damage from his past that so thoroughly distorted the logic of Detective Rob Ryan was unbelievable and instead came across as a veiled attempt by French to somehow exonerate herself for any failings to write convincingly from the male perspective. So what started out as an enjoyable and engaging mystery soon began to unravel into a tangled mess that left me feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

And yet there was enough glimmer of hope in one of the secondary characters, Detective Cassie Maddox, that when I learned that French’s follow-up novel was all about her, I decided I’d give French another chance. After all, this time she’d be writing from the female perspective. Something better suited for her perhaps?

Perhaps not. Detective Maddox, just like her former partner Detective Ryan, is prone to making some of the worst decisions I imagine possible for someone who is supposed to be trained to be smarter in situations like the ones posed in this novel. I’m by no means well-versed in what makes a police detective great at his or her game, but even simple civilian me was left mouth agape at some of the things Maddox did throughout this story.

Oh, and let’s not forget the story itself. Though intriguing in concept, it was a situation that I found did not bear the weight of closer examination at all. Maddox is called back to undercover work, where she started, when the murder squad discovers the body of a woman who not only looks exactly like Maddox but has been living under the name of Maddox’s last undercover persona. Maddox is assigned to go undercover, to live with this woman’s four friends, and try to discover the truth of her murder.

Marinate on that idea for a moment. Maddox is being sent in to try to convince four people who shared an intimate friendship (and possibly more) with the person she’s now tasked with impersonating. Her only guidance regarding the personality of this dead woman and the relationships she shared with these four individuals are some videos saved on her mobile phone as well as information that police were able to gather from other friends and acquaintances.

I’m a mimic. I always have been. I love to impersonate voices and accents. One of my favorite accents to impersonate is a Cockney accent. When I was younger, I was actually bold enough to fool a few Americans into believing that I was from England. I’ve never fooled an actual English person. Why? Because they’re English and able to pick up on nuances and differences that I’m not at all privy to…because, sad though this truth makes me, I’m not really English.

Now imagine me going to London and trying to convince a group of English people that I’m really one of them after watching a few EastEnders clips on YouTube. Think I’d be successful? Think I could keep it up for several weeks? Truth is, I can listen to the Slater sisters call each other “stroppy mare” or “dozy cow” all day long, but that’s only going to get me so far in my impersonation. What about all the other details that I’m missing? How quickly will they become obvious to someone intimately familiar with the language?

See why I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the duration of this novel? This very, very long novel. I could believe the coincidences of the story’s setup. I could even buy the concept at first. But the implementation of the plan in all its clumsy, drawn-out execution was just too much. Plus, to make matters worse, the four friends Maddox was sent in to fool were all English majors. I can assure you, denizens, if there’s one thing English majors excel at more than anything else, it’s in picking apart the details of any situation like wild dogs picking apart roadkill. They would have sussed Maddox out at about half past immediately.

Of course, this would have greatly decreased the length, which might not have been all that bad, actually. I think the story lost me about halfway through. I forged ahead only because I’m stubborn and secretly optimistic that even something bad has the potential to improve. Or maybe I’m just a literary masochist. I don’t know.

In the end, I was possibly even more let down by this book than I was by French’s first novel. Perhaps it was because Cassie Maddox was one of the few redeeming qualities of the first novel and the only reason that I decided to read the second novel. To then watch this character devolve in similarly frustrating and unbelievable ways as Rob Ryan did in the first novel was more than I anticipated or desired to witness. My dissolution regarding French and her abilities as a storyteller is now complete and I can say with all honesty that not only will I not be returning for a third taste of French’s offerings, but I also feel somewhat soured to the whole detective/mystery genre at the moment.

Final Verdict: Not only will I not be adding this one to my collection any time soon, but I will also definitely be releasing the first novel to that great thrift store in the sky. As for my attempt to crack into the mystery genre, if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all for them…but as of right now, I’m really not feeling the mystery vibe.