After being stunned by Tana French’s opening novel, I was equally impressed with the second instalment of the Dublin Murder Squad. After being severely emotionally scarred during Operation Vestal, in which a young girl was murdered, Cassie Maddox left the Squad for the more structured world of Domestic Violence. After receiving a frantic call from Squad Detective (and current boyfriend) Sam O’Neill, she agrees to meet him at the scene of his latest case; perhaps her first mistake. Cassie arrives to discover a murder victim who bears a striking resemblance to her, with identification listing the victim as Lexie Madison. This startles Maddox and takes her back to days working Undercover, where Maddox used the same name. With no leads, O’Neill hatches a plan alongside Frank Mackey, Maddox’s handler from those days working Undercover, wanting to place Maddox back into the life of Lexie Maddox. Their long-shot hope, to lure the killer back out of the shadows, while also allowing Maddox to gather intel from the four roommates with whom Madison shared a house. Maddox re-establishes herself as an undercover plant, testing her skills as attempts to fit into a life she never knew. To smooth over obvious gaps in what Maddox is able to ascertain about this new Lexie Madison, she heads into the house armed solely with a sketchy backstory of amnesia and the recent stabbing. As Mackey and O’Neill push her, a few motives for the attack come to the surface, though Maddox is unable to substantiate any of them. Could the killer be in plain sight, fraternizing with Maddox on a daily basis, or does an ancient grudge held by the townspeople help to fuel a hatred strong enough to kill? Maddox has a limited time to find the truth before being discovered and the killer slips away. Told with as much deliberate pacing as the previous novel, French shows that she was not a one-hit wonder. Perfect for those who seek a less than conventional murder mystery and police procedural.
I am still in awe that it took me so long to discover Tana French and her brilliant series. After pulling Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan into the spotlight throughout the opening novel, French turns to his (former) partner and best friend, using both her backstory and previous work in Undercover to develop this equally gripping story. Peppering the narrative with mentions of Ryan, French keeps him at arm’s length and away from making even the briefest of appearances. While some readers might have found the idea of a ‘lookalike’ entirely dubious for this or any other novel, French has a reason for pushing this idea, discussed below. French uses this ‘swap out’ to develop the struggles that Cassie Maddox had playing this faux character, as any undercover plant would while trying to hone in on what happened to the victim. The characters presented throughout the novel help to bring life and action to the plot, while also showing the strains of undercover work during the building of a watertight case against a handful of suspects. The latter portion of the explores the idea of imposters, which might explain the aforementioned use of the lookalike situation. French examines both the imposters angle that individuals use to fool others (a la Jekyll and Hyde), where a person takes on a false persona for their own benefit. Alternatively, there is the imposter that one plays against themselves, trying to pretend that they fit into another socio-economic bracket or general caste. Both are damaging and yet useful in one’s daily life. I would venture to say there is not a single reader who can completely divorce themselves from these situations in their own lives. French explores this theme extensively throughout the narrative, arguing that they appear on a regular basis, even if we cannot decipher them independently. Perhaps her greatest quality of French’s writing is her style of slow narrative momentum to stretch the story out while keeping the reader’s attention throughout. A stunning novel that is sure to garner scores of new fans for Tana French and provide much fodder for discussion.
Kudos, Madam French for keeping me hooked as I delve deeper into the Dublin Murder Squad. I cannot wait to find out what you have in store with your third novel.