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Discussion: The Likeness (Chapters 1-3)
So sorry this is a day late (hopefully not a dollar short) everyone! We'll be discussing roughly 3-4 chapters each week on Wednesdays between now and October 24th (see the schedule here).

Summary of Chapters 1-3


We're introduced to Cassie Maddox with her own haunted reflection on a person named Lexie Madison. She tells us that she wishes she could tell us Lexie's story without telling us her own, but it's impossible to separate the two. And there's a fair amount of guilt in owning up to the fact that she was responsible for some events that transpired, though we're not privy to what those events are. Then we learn Lexie never existed, she was an alias that Cassie, and her boss Frank, created on her first job as an undercover detective to bust a drug ring in a college years ago. We get a vivid account of her job interview and then we fast forward to the present day where Cassie tells us that she moved thorugh the ranks from undercover to the murder squad. She left the murder squad just a few months prior after a harrowing last case, Operation Vestal (the events of In the Woods), and she's been freaked out and restless ever since. Going to the firing range each morning soothes her, and that's where we pick up the current story.

Cassie gets a frantic call from her boyfriend Sam, a murder detective, who is at a crime scene and summons her there. Her old boss Frank is there unexpectedly and he asks her to don a hat and sunglasses so she won't be spotted at the scene, which gives her a feeling of foreboding. And with due cause: It turns out that a woman who looks exactly like Cassie with the ID Lexie Madison has been stabbed in the chest, murdered, and found in an abandoned house.

After the initial shock, Cassie realizes the girl stole her fake identity, probably after someone misidentified her as "Lexie". She begins asking questions and they realize the body's been moved, and that the killer took items (wallet, keys) out of her pockets, wiped them clean of blood, then put them back. A sergeant identifies the woman as a local, who shares living quarters with a bunch of other students at a place called Whitethorn House nearby. Then Frank springs his big idea on her: that they cover up the death so she can go undercover as Lexie and try to find out who killed her.

Cassie doesn't agree at first, but she's tempted at the chance to get to know who this girl was (she feels responsible for her in a way) and to get a bit of her old fearless self back. Frank also works some persuasive magic on her and she assents to attend a meeting on the case, dubbed Operation Mirror, at the precinct. When she tells Sam, they have a fight about her doing it because he doesn't understand why she can't just walk away. Cassie reflects that most undercovers have a bit of a "dark thread" inside them, and while she never worried about losing her nerve on the job, she worried she might go the other way and become totally hardened to things and unable to feel fear.

At the meeting, Cassie has nostalgia for her old role in Murder after seeing some coworkers. Then she learns a bombshell. "Lexie" was in the early stages of pregnancy when she died. The detectives run through the case details and the possible suspects/motives for the crime, but really know nothing more. Cassie is still uncommitted about going undercover...until Frank shows them a video of Lexie and her housemates. Cassie is captivated by this woman's confidence and lightness, reminding her of what she used to be like. Soon after, she says yes to joining the operation.



Discussion Questions



If you didn't read In the Woods, what's your initial impression of Cassie from the job interview compared to how she is now? If 
you read In the Woods, did she surprise you in any ways at the start of this, her own story? She's clearly a different Cassie now. She freaks out easily, she no longer dreams, she wears a suit and has a desk job and mostly avoids risk, and she attributes 
that all to Vestal. What do you think about her state of mind?

"Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons." What do you 
think of the opening paragraphs that hinge on that sorta reflective/unreliable technique that French does so well?

Cassie chooses the name Lexie Madison herself, partially because "when I was a kid, that was the name of my imaginary sister." 
She also mentions an imaginary brother. We've heard about imaginary twins/siblings before; it's a motif French used in In the 
Woods. Any thoughts on this?

Cassie's a former psychology major. What kind of effect does that have on how she approaches this mission?  

Even though the events of Vestal are over and Cassie's left the Murder squad, the echoes of the relationships and the events of that time are still very much imprinted on Cassie's life, and possibly hanging like the elephant in the room between Cassie and Sam. What do you make of that?
Cassie says at one point that Sam doesn't understand undercovers, that they'll do anything, take any risk to put their man down. 
Does Cassie strike you as this kind of ruthless? Is she a razor? ;)

What do you make of Sam in this book? Does he seem different than In the Woods? What do you think of his calls (or lack of calls) about letting Frank involve Lexie in the investigation? Is he good for Cassie/what she needs? Or is he another "depressing sweater" she bought when she left the Murder squad?

Cassie wishes Rob were there at the precinct, though she's "never let herself think that" in the months previous. Earlier in these chapters she says, "I found out early that you can throw yourself away, missing what you've lost." she says about her parents dying when she was a young child. Does this explain a lot about Cassie and her feelings now on Vestal/Rob?

The end of chapter three has a long reflective passage where Cassie talks about the job being the closest thing she has to religion, and truth is the God. She thinks Murder and Undercover require sacrifices and says Undercover took her honesty (she was stabbed when she hesitated about lying to a dealer about if she was a cop), and she says Murder took her best friend and her honesty and that when she transferred out, she expected there to be a price to pay for the desertion. But nothing happened and she realized "that this was the punishment: to be turned loose, allowed to go on my way. To be left empty by my guardian god." She adds that maybe that explains why she agreed to Operation Mirror and why she figured when she signed on that there was a decent chance she might get killed. Do you think Cassie hoped she'd get killed (or punished) when taking this on? Is she severely depressed/damaged?

Anything else you'd like to discuss about these three opening chapters?

Added bonus question!: Do you think Cassie (for all her insistence on not lying/honesty) is actually an unreliable narrator?


It actually wasn't until going back and reading ITW after reading this the first time that I felt I got the whole picture of how much Cassie has changed. The Cassie near the beginning of this book definitely doesn't want to cartwheel down the beach or anything, and obviously a lot of that is because she's going through a dark emotional time, but I wonder if some things about her have really changed for good after Operation Vestal. Later on, for those who know, I think she gets some of her spunk back when she's pretending to be Lexie and there's something very cathartic for her about that, but I guess we should save all that for future chapters.

As far as the twins/siblings thing goes, I'd forgotten she also had an imaginary brother...She says she had a very active imagination as a child and I think she still does (something she and Rob seem to have in common), which might be part of what makes her so good in undercover. It makes me wonder if some things about the detective story appeal to Tana not just as an author but as an actor, because they have to take on these other characters but with a much more serious purpose. But anyway, it makes me sad how the imaginary sibling thing ties back to the implied loneliness of Cassie's childhood, no matter how much we can believe she got along pretty well after her parents' death.

I actually feel like Cassie's reasons for leaving undercover are a little nebulous; it could have had a lot to do with the dishonesty that's involved, or she just realized she couldn't be as dedicated to it as she needed to be. But it sounds like in a weird way she also enjoyed it before, when she's explaining to Sam that it was like being on an insane high and that she's also crazy-good at it. I'm left with the amusing conclusion that pretty much nobody is fit for undercover except for when they are, and it's a matter of lasting out until you either come to your senses or go off the deep end.

SAM IS A DEPRESSING SWEATER (AND/OR BLANKET). LOL BUT IT REALLY IS IMPLIED. Sam bugs me in these chapters a little bit, but I truly don't think he intends to be controlling. They started dating after she left Murder, he's not used to interacting with her professionally while involved with her romantically and he just isn't good at being objective...but all of this really affects the way I look at later events between them :/ And I can't help thinking his protectiveness is a little premature, when they've only been dating for a few months.

(Okay, gotta eat. I will probably be back with more thoughts later.)


It makes me wonder if some things about the detective story appeal to Tana not just as an author but as an actor, because they have to take on these other characters but with a much more serious purpose.

Definitely. And there's a lot of storytelling involved in detective work, if you think about it. All that spitballing (based on small observations) to construct conflicts and motivations and figure out the suspects ("characters") and the roles they play in each others' lives, etc. Makes sense to me.

SAM IS A DEPRESSING SWEATER (AND/OR BLANKET). LOL BUT IT REALLY IS IMPLIED.

Lol, it really is! In fact I was surprised how she basically says "I bought a lot of depressing sweaters in this time period, which makes me wonder at the smartness of starting a relationship at this time too."

I can't help thinking his protectiveness is a little premature, when they've only been dating for a few months.

I thought it was interesting while reading how Cassie is careful to say the relationship is new/has only been going on a few months, but Sam is clearly much more serious/invested than she seems to be. It kinda makes me sad for the ending too. It's really hard not to get ahead of yourself when discussing too! Thankfully I think most of us have all read the book before.

SAM IS A DEPRESSING SWEATER (AND/OR BLANKET). LOL BUT IT REALLY IS IMPLIED.

AND ALSO A FEATHER DUVET :D (we haven’t reached this bit yet but this really stuck with me. I find it so depressing. I can’t even, lol)

Yes, that's what I was thinking of, LOL. Oh, Sam, he's like the Consumer Reports-approved boyfriend. IDEK.

I have to admit that I was initially pretty fascinated with the idea that a dead girl had assumed the identity of a college student that Cassie and Frank had made up. I had so many questions about that aspect of the case, and sadly, I don't know that they were every really explained except to say that the girl, Lexie, seemed to have a lot of identities.

I'll say here what I've said elsewhere that the entire book was built on a premise that Cassie could BE Lexie. I find that so utterly impossible that I couldn't really buy most of the book. I read it, of course, and really tried to make it work, but at every turn I was waiting to see her fail, or for me to see that she couldn't do it. I don't even know what sane person would try such a stunt, although I admire her and Frank's moxie for trying it.

Frank, whom you didn't mention in your questions, was such a total and unequivocal dick. I really hated him. He was arrogant about the whole thing, but it was pretty compelling.

I didn't give much thought to Cassie's childhood or her pretending, but was focused on how she remembered Rob and what she thought about that time in Murder. It still left so many unanswered questions.

Sam never really bothered me that much, although he wasn't a very compelling person to read about, I felt like she genuinely really cared for him, but that Rob was a spectre between them. Even though I thought what Cassie was doing was ridiculously dangerous, I still felt annoyed at Sam for being such a downer about it. Cassie had obv made her decision and he was annoying me. :)

I think O'Kelly is a great character and seeing him through two of the books has been fun. He's the sort of grumbling manager of these crazy detectives and adds a bit of humor to the piece.

I have to admit that I find it hard to believe that Cassie just STOPPED THINKING ABOUT ROB. Really? I know people repress and compartmentalize, but they were so frakking close. How did she do that magical thing? Unless she's lying to us...although I don't remember that she ever mentioned thinking about him again.




UGh I had written a long response and accidentally hit the back button and poofed it! Oy!

Anyway--for some reason I found the idea that the girl would be quick enough to just spin up a whole fake identity/new life on someone recognizing her randomly as "Lexie" than I did about Cassie taking the girl's place. Maybe because that seemed circular since much of "Lexie" was clearly modeled on Cassie in the first place I guess (the girl did her research?). Neither really bears a lot of scrutiny. LOL.

Oh you didn't like Frank? I could see he was an ass, but kind of a charming one. And I liked his banter/relationship with Cassie, even though he was hella manipulative. Though honestly, while I read it, I pictured Mark Shephard/Romo so completely as Frank. LOL. I think he had a similar manipulative/charming mien. Did your thoughts about Frank change in Faithful Place? He seemed different in that book.

I think Cassie's quote about not missing what you can't have explains a lot about Rob, but clearly she thought of him more often than she'll admit. There are other moments in this book when her thoughts go right to him in certain scenarios. One is right at the start, when Sam calls and tells her he's been called to a case and she's alarmed and her knees buckle and says "Oh my god, is it--" and he says "No! No, it's not-- it's not anyone we know." That seemed pretty clearly about Rob.

It makes me wish I'd asked whether or not people think Cassie is an unreliable narrator actually. I might have to add that question!

Ah, yes, I actually meant to add that despite Frank being dick, he did seem to care a lot about Cassie. (And I loved him later in Faithful Place.)

I never got the sense that Cassie was an unreliable narrator in the way that, Amy was in Gone Girl, but French's style always leads me to believe there is more brewing under the surface and that some new hidden fact could spring up at any moment.

LOL, I could go on and on about the Cassie-Frank relationship; it was certainly more entertaining than her relationship with Sam and I knew from the moment he picked her up in a hug and started making fun of her suit that they were going to be lots of fun. There's a weird mix of manipulation and actual affection there, and you get the sense that they do really care about each other but that outside of professional stuff they keep their distance. And while he may not have seemed protective enough, I don't think he would have ever asked her to do anything he didn't think she could handle (There's this one part in Faithful Place, when he's offended by Scorcher's assumption that one of his informants might have gotten killed, that made me think he keeps a very close eye on them). It comes off pretty cold that he's just like "It's her job, undercovers can be bait all the time," etc., but that's the plain truth, going undercover is usually a very dangerous job and it wouldn't help anything to beat around that fact and I thought he generally characterized the ruthlessness of the job very well.

There are definitely a few oblique thoughts that seem like references to Rob that make me convinced Cassie never could have put him out of her mind completely. There's that comment about how she considered drowning her stress in alcohol but she didn't want to end up making phone calls to "inappropriate people" late at night (ahem), and I did also think Sam and Cassie were both thinking of Rob when she at first thought they both knew the dead person. And I think that once she has that stab of missing Rob when she's at the meeting it kind of opens the floodgates, cause she starts mentioning him by name now and then after that.

Edited at 2012-09-14 04:15 am (UTC)

I'll have to save my some of my thoughts on the believability of the impersonation, because there are ways in which I think it actually gets less believable by the end of the book. But basically my take on it is that yeah, it seems preposterous that you would be able to just hop into somebody's life and pretend to be them from taking cues here and there, but at the same time, what are you going to actually suspect if someone you know who has probably recently been traumatized starts acting funny? I would think you'd assume they're acting funny, not that they're someone else. I guess Tana could have played up this aspect of it just a bit more and relied less on Cassie being just that good and the situation may have felt more believable, or as believable as it can be when it starts off on such a premise of huge coincidence.

I would really hate working with O'Kelly - one of the things that makes me love Cassie is how she manages to remain mostly unfazed by him - but he does bring in a lot of humor. Both he and Cooper are characters I wouldn't exactly want to read a whole book about but have started to enjoy as fixtures of the series.

I love O’Kelly too, especially after reading Broken Harbor --Scorcher’s portrait of him made me see him in a different light, more smart than I thought he was and also endearingly protective of his detectives. Oddly, he became one of my favorite characters in the book (which I am not sure is a good thing, lol).

Edited at 2012-09-14 03:02 pm (UTC)

Interesting...I still haven't read Broken Harbor (ugh) but I was curious how O'Kelly would be represented there. I do remember there's a bit in ITW when Rob says that O'Kelly seems a lot smarter than he pretends to be because his vocabulary goes way up when he's pissed off, and I thought that was a pretty funny observation.

Something interesting about Scorcher’s POV in Broken Harbor was that his perception of O’Kelly differed quite a lot from Tana’s previous and younger detectives’. It made me like his character and think of him as a fairly decent boss. Interestingly, it also reminded me of a passage in In the Woods, when Rob explains how once Operation Vestal was over and he was suspended, O’Kelly turned out to be his most vehement defender. Of course Rob’s reasons to justify O’Kelly’s actions had nothing to do with affection or concern but self-protection, but O’Kelly’s portrait in BH made me question to what extent Rob’s idea was accurate or if the simple truth behind it was that the guy genuinely cared about one of his subordinates.

(And ugh, totally OT but just realized I’ve written “more smart” instead of “smarter” in my previous comment *cringes* That’s why sometimes I think I’d need a beta for my comments, lol).

I am not sure if I was as aware the first time around, but rereading In the Woods and now The Likeness in quick succession it really hit me how different this Cassie is from the sassy and vivacious girl we met in the previous novel. It made me a bit sad and I kind of loved how Frank quickly picked on it. I guess in some ways Operation Vestal changed her forever. It made her, and I honestly don’t know if the wording is good, grow up in a way that I don’t find particularly heart-warming but comes across as fairly realistic.

But it’s also pretty obvious that she is not in the right mental state when the book starts. Let’s not forget that Operation Vestal happened only 6 months ago and that’s not nearly enough time to recover from the emotional blow that was losing Rob. Maybe it’s too simplistic an explanation, but I tend to believe that, deep down, it all comes down to that, to the fact of losing the more meaningful person she’d had in her entire life. In this regard, there is one passage, when she is talking about her imaginary brother and sister, that strikes me as very revealing:

It wasn’t affection I was after, nothing like that. What I wanted was someone I belonged with, beyond any doubt or denial; someone where every glance was a guarantee, solid proof that we were stuck to each other for life.

I think Rob was that person for her. It seems to me that both of them, for different reasons, had that need of belonging and closeness and when they met and immediately clicked, they recognized that about each other. In The Likeness, Cassie is presented with the opportunity to live with a family of friends, to belong with them as she had belonged nowhere in her life, except with Rob. And that's obviously an intoxicating atmosphere for a 30-something woman who's never felt like she's belonged.

Re. Sam. Maybe this makes me a terrible person, but it’s not a secret that Sam annoys me the hell out of me: I anti-ship them and always will (unless Tana writes a book from his POV and makes me change my mind, obviously). For one, I liked him way more in In the Woods, possibly because he was more of a mystery in that book and Rob kind of portrayed him as a very competent detective and also a really nice (though a bit naïve) guy. Here… I don’t know, his protectiveness just bothers me and I don’t see much chemistry there honestly. I tend to believe that Cassie gravitates towards more complicated people and even though Sam is very sweet and likeable, I don’t see him as a good match for her. It’s like she is going out with him because he is the smart move, he is good for her, but it doesn’t seem to me that Cassie is nearly as invested in the relationship as he is (I read somewhere that Sam is like an English test in school, where there are multiple choices and there's more than one right answer, but only one best answer. Sam is like one of those: he's not the wrong answer, but will never be the best answer. I like the metaphor quite a lot, lol). Also, in this regard, I find way more intriguing and compelling her relationship with Frank, which I believe it’s a deliberate move on Tana’s part (and that’s why I just caaaaaan’t with the ending of this book, but I guess we’ll discuss that later).

As for the doppelganger thing, it’s absolutely far-fetched and absurd, everything about it (I get why people who are expecting more of a crime procedural can’t get past this premise) but oddly, I never had a problem suspending my disbelief (that’s a trend in Tana’s books and I mostly love her for that, though I struggle s bit with her plots, sometimes). I guess I was OK with the premise in The Likeness because I never read the book as a standard police procedural and for me it’s always been more of a character study, the whole scenario working as an excuse to explore further certain themes we already saw in In the Woods.

Gotta study some more. I’ll probably be back later!

Yeah...I do think the actual case is a lot of the reason for her practically being traumatized, but then I have to wonder if it would be nearly as bad if she'd just had an extremely rough case but still had her best friend*, and I think it was really this combined disillusioning blow to everything that meant so much to her. In the recent chapter she talks about how the case took away her honesty and sadly that has a lot to do with Rob too (he himself said something like, "She left because she'd lied to O'Kelly and she'd lied to Rosalind and they'd both believed her; and because she told me the truth, and I called her a liar.") Everything that was so important to her was all taken away at once and I think it all gets swept under the Vestal blanket in her mind, but she does seem to more deliberately avoid thinking about Rob than other aspects of it, and that's very telling. I also find it interesting that the way she describes the reason that they aren't speaking anymore sort of takes on a different note every time it's mentioned (every explanation feels true, but she never quite gets into the full picture of it).

Also, in this regard, I find way more intriguing and compelling her relationship with Frank, which I believe it’s a deliberate move on Tana’s part There are...a couple people I've seen on Tumblr who seem to ship Cassie/Frank and that doesn't surprise me at all because I feel like if I'd come into The Likeness without having read the first book it would be like...the only thing I would be tempted to ship, LOL. (Except for...well. That's later on.) But I do think even while there's nothing romantic about Cassie and Frank, there's an understanding between them that feels like a competitive counterpoint to the Cassie/Sam relationship, and I think a lot of readers found Sam this very harmless boring presence by contrast.

*Just wanted to add this is kind of an intriguing what-if all on its own: When Cassie is pondering the ways Rob would be teasing her about the whole Lexie Madison thing ("The dead girl had been pretty," aww, fucking shoot me now) if he was around to be a comfort I can't help contemplating what the events of the second novel would be like if they were still on Murder together, if she had a more healthy outlook on things when this bizarreness comes along. I can't help thinking he would be more of a middle ground between Frank's recklessness and Sam's protectiveness, neither pushing her into it nor trying to talk her out of it.

Edited at 2012-09-14 07:47 pm (UTC)

Everything that was so important to her was all taken away at once and I think it all gets swept under the Vestal blanket in her mind,

Yeah, I found interesting that she kept saying “Operation Vestal here”, “Operation Vestal there”, especially in this few first chapters. But, of course, I can’t help thinking that the crux of Operation Vestal was Rob and the disintegration of their friendship, and it makes me really sad (though I totally get it) how she seems so adamant about not thinking about him or even saying his name out loud (especially with Sam, I got the impression that Rob totally was He Who Must Not Be Named, lol). That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see how Rob actually becomes another character (kind of a ghost) in the book. I remember it took me a while to pick The Likeness because I was a bit apprehensive that after how things were left in In the Woods he was not going to be mentioned at all. And yeah, maybe I am too biased in this regard, but I caught many (many more than I expected, to be honest) oblique (and not so oblique) references to him throughout the novel, and I kind of adored Tana for that, for letting me grieve him vicariously through Cassie :)

(plus, all this makes me wonder what would have been my take on the whole thing if I had read The Likeness first. I would have been curious about Operation Vestal and would have possibly felt that I was missing some important stuff, sure, but what else, I don’t exactly know. I also wonder if I’d love Rob as much as I do if I had known about him in TL, because I hate seeing Cassie so distraught).

a couple people I've seen on Tumblr who seem to ship Cassie/Frank

Ha, that’s kind of cool and I can totally see that. It’s funny because the first time I read the novel I enjoyed Cassie and Frank’s interaction, but given his attitude I couldn’t help thinking he was a bit of a jerk, obviously. Now, after Faithful Place, I’ve grown quite fond of him and while I was rereading their push and pull I found myself thinking how cute they are and how Cassie seems more her pre-Operation Vestal self with him around.

"It wasn’t affection I was after, nothing like that. What I wanted was someone I belonged with, beyond any doubt or denial; someone where every glance was a guarantee, solid proof that we were stuck to each other for life."

I think Rob was that person for her. It seems to me that both of them, for different reasons, had that need of belonging and closeness and when they met and immediately clicked, they recognized that about each other. In The Likeness, Cassie is presented with the opportunity to live with a family of friends, to belong with them as she had belonged nowhere in her life, except with Rob. And that's obviously an intoxicating atmosphere for a 30-something woman who's never felt like she's belonged.


YES! I am so glad you brought up this part because I felt the same thing. I think the first time around when I read the book, I missed how thoroughly depressed she was because she covers pretty well, but there's a lot more hints than I remembered of how she is really not okay. (Which, ironically, gives her one more thing in common with Rob.)

Random thing, but it sends a small chill down my spine during that scene when Cassie and Sam are arguing and they acknowledge the possibility that a certain person from Operation Vestal would be more than happy to do away with Cassie if she got the chance. It's really creepy to accept she's still out there somewhere and I almost wonder if Tana would ever think about bringing her back into the picture.

I wanted to add something about Cassie’s being or not an unrealiable narrator. I find the question so interesting and I have many thoughts about the topic, but somehow I feel I can’t articulate them well enough. Ugh. Anyway, I’d say yes, she absolutely is. Her POV might come off as more reliable than Rob’s in the sense that she seems more in control of the situation than he ever was. I feel that, unlike Rob, she knows her secrets all along and carefully chooses what she shares and what she keeps for herself. In this sense I find her more manipulative and, ironically, less… honest? with the reader than him. Rob tells in In the Woods that there is something mysterious about Cassie, and her POV in The Likeness kind of supports this picture of her, at least for me, as I struggled a bit to understand some of her motivations and actions. I am always under the impression with Cassie in TL that, maybe out of self-preservation, there are some places in her head where she won’t let herself go, won't ever reveal to the reader, and even though one might argue about the wisdom of that choice, her mental strength and resilience is something I love about her.

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