The Likeness, by Edgar Award winning author Tana French, is the second in her Dublin Murder Squad series, and the events take place approximately six months after the first book In the Woods ends. All the Murder Squad books take place in the same world, and each book focuses on a minor character from the previous novel. French studied acting at Trinity College in Dublin and uses her experience as an actor to write her characters and situations. French’s novels do not adhere strictly to one genre but instead are a mixture of crime drama and psychological thrillers with a bit of magical realism woven throughout.
Readers should note that the text and this guide include references to violence, suicide, death, and lost pregnancies.
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Detective Cassie Maddox narrates a dream she often has about Whitethorn House. The house is empty but still full of memories of Daniel and the others who lived there. Cassie is narrating the story from the future and giving an account of what happened when she came to live in the house for a brief time. Cassie’s former boss Frank Mackey and current beau Sam O’Neill summon her to investigate a murder in Glenskehy, a small country town outside of Dublin. When Cassie sees the victim, she is shocked to see a girl who looks just like her. Not only does the victim resemble Cassie, but she was using the alias Lexie Madison, which is an alias Cassie had created with Frank for her undercover work. Frank proposes Cassie go undercover as Lexie again, this time to infiltrate the insular group who resides in Whitethorn House, the place Lexie had been living with four other college students. Daniel, Rafe, Abby, and Justin are an eccentric group of friends who shun modern technology and have devoted themselves to being lifelong students and to the restoration of the historic Irish manor home called Whitethorn House, which was inherited by Daniel from his Great Uncle Simon March. The first step of Operation Mirror, the symbolic name of the mission, is for Frank to convince the roommates Lexie survived. Cassie will live among them, wired and surveilled, to uncover the truth of who Lexie was and why she was murdered. Just before going in, Cassie learns the dead Lexie was pregnant.
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As Cassie integrates into life at Whitethorn and the identity of Lexie, she begins to fall in love with their way of life. Soon, the boundaries of her detective work and her personal loyalties begin to blur as her nerves begin to fray, which compromises the integrity of the mission. She routinely lies and withholds information that could potentially solve the case from Frank. Orphaned at an early age and still reeling from a traumatic ending to her last mission, Operation Vestal, Cassie is plagued with painful memories of her fears and failures. She becomes unnaturally attached to the character of Lexie, finding freedom in her freewheeling, autonomous spirit. However, just when she thinks she knows the dead girl Cassie will uncover another surprising detail about Lexie’s life, constantly throwing her off the trail of the murderer. To make matters worse, the townspeople have developed an intense hatred of Whitethorn and its residents, and a man named John Naylor has been vandalizing the home.
After chasing several false leads in town related to the local hatred of Whitethorn House—including a cousin, Ned, who was intent on selling the home to build a spa or luxury apartments—the investigation refocuses on the friend circle. Seeing Cassie has lost her way in the intoxication of life at Whitethorn, Frank threatens to pull the plug on the operation. Cassie begs for three more days to intensify her investigation of the individuals in the house. Tensions mount as it becomes clear the roommates are hiding something. Daniel is distracting his friends into silence, sequestering them in the house to speed up the restoration and avoid further interrogation by the detectives swarming the town. Once Daniel reveals to Cassie he knows she is a fake and that Lexie was attacked in Whitethorn, secrets begin to spill from the roommates as they crack under the pressure of Daniel’s expectations and the guilt of Lexie’s stabbing. Cassie posing as Lexie arranges a meeting with Ned to confirm her suspicions that Lexie was selling him her share of the house.
Frank questions all the roommates at Murder squad headquarters. Cassie requests Frank keep Daniel back so she can be alone with the other friends at home. Thinking they are finally revealing the truth to Lexie, they each tell parts of what happened the night of the stabbing. The roommates discovered Lexie’s deception and began viciously fighting. Someone had a kitchen knife and accidentally stabbed Lexie. She ran for the cottage and Daniel and Justin followed her. Daniel reported she was dead when he found her, and he and Justin clean up the crime scene and return to Whitethorn to construct an elaborate alibi. As the friends finish the story, Daniel appears, and he pulls an antique gun. Cassie fires, killing him. Frank and Sam rush in to pull Cassie from the scene and take the roommates in for questioning. Meanwhile, Naylor returns and sets fire to Whitethorn. Cassie returns to her desk job with hopes of one day returning to Murder, and she and Sam begin a life together. With Daniel dead, the rest of the housemates splinter off into separate, mundane lives. Frank discovers the victim’s real name was Grace and lived many lives under false identities.
By Tana French