I’m doing something a little bit different here today. I’m so bursting with enthusiasm for this book that I’m going to post my review-ish thoughts now, even though I’m only about 1/3 of the way through. Then I’ll write my normal review when I’ve finished, and we’ll see if I still love it. Ready?
Ohhh I am reeling over this wonderful book! This is my third Tana French, and three is all she’s written so far; hurry, Tana! I need more!
First of all, I find the plot to be very imaginative and engaging. I think about this book all day and at night, and itch to get back into my car or somewhere I can listen to more of it. I think it’s a unique premise; at least I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.
Cassie Maddox is a Dublin detective. She worked undercover, then murder, but these days is cooling her heels in domestic violence, recovering from the trauma of an old case and cautiously enjoying a relationship with a fellow detective, Sam, from the murder squad. Sam calls her up early one morning in a panic: he needs her at a murder scene right away, which doesn’t make any sense. When she gets there, she’s reunited with her old boss from undercover, Frank Mackey, which also doesn’t make sense. Then she sees the body. Not only is this girl her virtual twin (Sam’s panic explained: he thought it was her), she’s using the name Alexandra “Lexie” Madison. She’s using Cassie’s old undercover identity. She was pretending to be who Cassie used to pretend to be.
Frank talks Cassie into returning to undercover, becoming Lexie Madison again, and infiltrating this second pretend Lexie’s life, living with her housemates and teaching her classes and working on her thesis, pretending Lexie was just injured and not killed at all. Ostensibly the goal is to solve the murder, but everyone has their own motivations. Cassie needs to understand why this mystery girl took on her old cover, and what threat may still remain to her. She suspects that Frank is excited at the challenge of this unprecedented investigatory technique. And Sam just wants her safe, doesn’t want her undercover living a pretend dead girl’s life; but he recognizes yet another reason she needs to do this: she desperately misses the electric buzz of working undercover.
So Cassie enters Whitethorn House, to share her life with four fellow English students. The five are unnaturally close; they share a chemistry, and clearly, they share secrets. But is one of their secrets the identity of Lexie’s murderer?
This is a remarkable work of suspense and atmosphere. There is an undercurrent, too, of psychological terror; Cassie is frequently stunned, pinned, by what she and the dead version of Lexie share, finds herself frighteningly at home in this other person’s clothing, relationships, home, routine. I never leave Cassie’s dramatic, pins-and-needles double life. She absolutely has me wrapped up in her world, her tendency to relax in Lexie’s life even though that’s the last thing an undercover should do, her total focus on who this girl was. Add clever turns of phrase; moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity; the brusquely loving relationships between Cassie and Sam and (even better) Cassie the hardnosed detective and her old boss Frank; a fully-developed Irish setting; and an enormously complex, real, and likeable heroine… and you have far and away the best work of fiction I’ve encountered this year.
Oh, and the audio production: more raves. Heather O’Neill does Cassie’s Dublin accent delightfully. I love the singsong, lilting quality and the emotion she puts into every scene. The voices of Cassie, Frank, Sam, and Lexie’s housemates – not to mention Lexie herself, whose voice is different from Cassie’s – are distinguishable from one another. And she perfectly imparts that suspenseful, atmospheric tone, which reminded me from the first lines of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Whitethorn House, like Manderley, is almost a character in itself; it seems to have moods, personality, and secrets.
I can’t say enough good things about this book, or about the audio production. Rush out and find yourself some Tana French. Tana: write more books!