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.
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?