In The Woods & The Likeness by Tana French

Whoa! Has it really been a month? I have definitely fallen behind on the review process, that much is clear. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! I’m right on track for my goal of reading 100 books, I just haven’t had enough time to write down my thoughts on all of them. But I want to get back on track with that. And I have a lot of thoughts about The Likeness.

It’s impossible for me to review The Likeness without first talking about In The Woods, so lets see what the summary for that book looks like first.

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Richly atmospheric, stunning in its complexity, and utterly convincing and surprising to the end, In the Woods is sure to enthrall fans of Mystic River and The Lovely Bones.

Oooh, chilling right? I don’t read a lot of mysteries. Not because I don’t like them, but because I got freaked out reading Nancy Drew as a kid. Don’t even get me started on how freaked out I was by reading Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Basically I’m a big wimp. But at the same time I get hooked very easily. Once I start, I HAVE to know who did it. If I hear even the opening Law & Order noise, I have to watch the episode. So once I read the description to In The Woods, I HAD to read it. I needed to know what was up with the blood in his shoes, what had happened to the other kids, how these cases were connected. I was drawn in before I even opened the book.

Here’s the part where I warn you about SPOILERS! NASTY SPOILERS THAT WILL RUIN THE MYSTERY!

For the most part I really enjoyed the book. It was creepy, but not in a way I couldn’t handle. Most of the creepiness came from the eeriness of Rob’s childhood experience, and how that whole thing is described. The woods where his friends disappear practically come alive in this book. For me, the most vivid parts were his memories. The murder that draws him back to the woods never quite held the same amount of interest for me.

Tana French is very thorough with her narration, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes makes for too many pages. Rob’s thought process is incredibly detailed and wordy. He talks about his past, his partner, and the other detectives. The descriptions of his and Cassie’s apartments are so detailed and manage to capture such atmosphere that I felt like I’d been there. And it’s easy to follow all this information. Even when Rob sees something that jogs some remembrance of his past, it’s all very fluid… but sometimes it’s just not necessary. There’s a lot of filler here. The case moves in fits and bursts and in between there’s a lot of stuff that’s not necessarily relevent. There’s a lot of rambling, for a mystery novel.

But whatever, that’s style, right? That’s more of a quibble than an actual problem. You know what bothered me? You know what made me throw the book across the room? You never find out what happened to those kids.

That was what made me want to read the book! And now I never get to know what happened? So. Not. Satisfying.

The modern-day murder, on the other hand, is solved. But along the way the case manages to mess up pretty much everything for the main character. His relationship with his partner is damaged beyond repair. His career is pretty much over. Oh yeah, and the killer walks free. In the end Rob’s pretty much miserable, but by that point I didn’t have much sympathy for him. He acts like a huge prat for the last quarter of the book.

There’s a ton of foreshadowing throughout the book. Really in your face foreshadowing. Stuff like, “If I had known then what was to come after that night…” blah, blah, blah. And then when the killer is finally revealed, Rob says something to the effect of, “Well readers, you can’t blame me for not seeing this one coming because I totally gave you all the clues and you didn’t see it either.” Except I totally did. Rob’s complete inability to spot the killer was extremely frustrating to me since I smelled a rat very early on.

For all that French’s descriptions are quite thorough, at times I wondered how much research she’s actually done into how a murder investigation actually works. Not that I’m any authority! But it did kind of throw me for a loop when they found the murder weapon in a building right next to where they found the victim… isn’t that someplace you’d think to check right away?

In conclusion: Points for style and concept. It’s not poorly written, but I wanted a conclusion. I felt like I had been tricked.

Of course, once I had recovered and I went and picked up the book from where I had thrown it, I discovered there was a sneak peek at the sequel. I had no idea that In The Woods was part of a series, so I read the snippet eagerly, hoping for a hint of resolution. Alas, The Likeness does not offer any hints about what happened in those woods. Instead, it focuses on Rob’s partner, Cassie Maddox.

Six months after the events of In the Woods, Detective Cassie Maddox is still trying to recover. She’s transferred out of the murder squad and started a relationship with Detective Sam O’Neill, but she’s too badly shaken to make a commitment to him or to her career. Then Sam calls her to the scene of his new case: a young woman found stabbed to death in a small town outside Dublin. The dead girl’s ID says her name is Lexie Madison (the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective, and she looks exactly like Cassie.

With no leads, no suspects, and no clue to Lexie’s real identity, Cassie’s old undercover boss, Frank Mackey, spots the opportunity of a lifetime. They can say that the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover in her place to find out information that the police never would and to tempt the killer out of hiding. At first Cassie thinks the idea is crazy, but she is seduced by the prospect of working on a murder investigation again and by the idea of assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student with a cozy group of friends.

As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than anyone imagined. Her friends are becoming suspicious, Sam has discovered a generations-old feud involving the old house the students live in, and Frank is starting to suspect that Cassie’s growing emotional involvement could put the whole investigation at risk. Another gripping psychological thriller featuring the headstrong protagonist we’ve come to love, from an author who has proven that she can deliver.

I started The Likeness with a good deal of trepidation. I believe my thoughts were something along the lines of, “Goddamnit, if there is no mystery solved by the end of this book I’m going to be really pissed off.” I mean, it’s a big book, that’s a lot of time invested! Thankfully, you actually find out who did it by the end of the book.

As the summary states, The Likeness is all about Cassie delving into her undercover role. As in the first book, there is a somewhat mystical element to this story. Nothing you can really pin down, just an undercurrent of something more. Cassie slips into Lexie’s life almost too easily. Her sixth sense for what this girl was like and her way of doing things almost freaks Cassie out sometimes. It’s suggested Lexie might have kept a diary. On her first day alone in the house Cassie manages to find the diary’s hiding spot in the first place she looks. It’s as though the murdered girl is peering over her shoulder throughout the story, sometimes guiding her way.

Lexie herself is a complicated. As the case progresses they find out that this is not the first alias she’s used. Lexie has appeared and disappeared in many places and lives over the years. Certain clues suggest that she was about to disappear from Whitethorn House too, before she died. She’s a ghostly presence throughout, sometimes cruel sometimes lovable.

This story is different from the first in the series in some ways and very similar in others. The characters involved were far more likeable here. The murder is sad but not quite so dark. But the narrative is still very detailed. The minutia of daily life is explored so thoroughly that at times you forget the story is actually a murder mystery. The housemates and house are described in intimate loving detail… almost too much so.

I kept getting the feeling that this was the author’s dream home in some ways. Like she was writing the perfect college living situation (minus the murder, obviously). Daniel and Abby and Justin and Rafe are so damn interesting and complex that it’s almost annoying. They’re not perfect exactly. There’s too much going on under the surface for them to be perfect. Can you be flawless without being perfect? Because that’s kind of how it felt to me.

Another similarity: Poor detective skills. Almost from the moment Cassie steps foot in the house, she starts playing her own game. She’s trying to solve a murder, but she also finds herself drawn to potential suspects. She starts hiding things from the other people working on the case to try to lead the investigation in the direction she wants it to go. I had trouble understanding why. I understand the part about her growing close to her housemates, but she not only hides details about them, she hides things pertaining to Lexie’s life that had nothing to do with the others.

The narrative in both books was very similar. I was looking forward to reading something from Cassie’s perspective, but there really wasn’t much difference between her and Rob’s voices… except she is perhaps more likable.

In Conclusion: I think I liked this book better. It moved very slowly at times, but I found myself being drawn in to Cassie’s world the more I read. It was hard not to be charmed by the idea of Whitethorn House.

In The Woods on Goodreads & Amazon

The Likeness on Goodreads & Amazon

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