Frank & I had done this. We made Lexie Madison bone by bone and fiber by fiber, we baptized her and for a few months we gave her a face and a body, and when we threw her away she wanted more. She spent four years spinning herself back, out of dark earth and night winds and then she called us here to see what we had done.
The Likeness has a drop-dead irresistible premise. Detective Cassie Maddox created Lexie Madison, a fake identity, in order to use her in an undercover operation. Now, years have passed when suddenly a woman is found murdered. A woman that looks exactly like Cassie. A woman carrying ID identifying her as Lexie Madison. And now Cassie, her ex-boss, undercover cop Frank Mackey, and her partner Sam O’Neill have a strange task ahead of them: solving the murder of someone who never existed. French really has laid out a heavy one-two combo with her debut, In the Woods, and this one, her immediate follow-up. She’s got a way with prose that makes it both breathtakingly brutal and painfully blunt all at once. She can conjure a terrifying sense of atmosphere and her characters are nothing less than real, fascinating, infuriating, empathetic and deeply damaged. I was a bit worried to see that she’s written a direct follow-up to In the Woods, since, well, no spoilers, but at the end of that book, I had no interest in seeing it turned into a series. And she’s done a great job here, which is shift focus; some characters carry over here and the book clearly takes place in the aftermath of In the Woods, but the events at the end of the previous book are left ambiguous, as it should be. Anyway, this is a great, great mystery novel. French hasn’t exactly re-invented the hard-boiled British police procedural, but she’s stripped it raw, laid out all the darkest emotions behind it and given it the moral weight of something out of the Bible. The Likeness is another magnificent triumph. The third in the series, Faithful Place, switches focus again, to a minor supporting character from this book. Have I already ordered it? Damn, son, I already HAVE it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – French’s pitch perfect second novel is a gripping police procedural with a premise to die for, populated with damaged, fascinating characters; a masterpiece, full stop, not just in its genre. 4 stars.