"Take what you want and pay for it, says God."
So. After the shit-storm that was Operation Vestal left Detective Cassie Maddox shaken, robbed her of her best friend, and compelled her to switch to the Domestic Violence squad, a case comes along that makes all that looks like Sunday tea. A body is found in an abandoned cottage in the country - a body that bears a total resemblance to Cassie and identification that names her Alexandra Madison, a pseudonym that Cassie went under when she worked undercover. It's like Cassie dreamt Lexie into life or maybe it's the other way around - as Cassie returns to undercover to infiltrate her doppleganger's life and find out who murdered who, surrounded by a nest of possible suspects.
I liked this. Let me say that right off the bat. After In the Woods, I expected to enjoy it and I did but... The premise. It just didn't work. Even if the victim was going around under and assumed identity that Cassie created, that doesn't actually make it okay for Cassie to pose as her. In fact, beyond the fact that it's unlikely that it would actually work (I mean, even Polyjuice raises questions), I don't think that any police force would actually authorize such an operation. It's just such an unethical thing to do - it's one thing to infiltrate a known crime ring, it's another to completely manipulate people who may or may not be suspects and outright lie to them about whether their friend is actually dead. It was really, really hard to suspend my disbelief on this one - magical creatures in literature I can deal with - a lack of truth in what people are capable of is much harder.
And then there's the fact that Cassie just makes so many dumb decisions. Yeah, she's still all messed up from Vestal and she never had a family and wouldn't it just be lovely to read literature and eat delicious things all day and don't we all want friends that we would readily commit to spending our lives with - but does that really justify her choices? Does it make sense that she would let herself become so invested in their (rather twisted) lives and risk not just her career, not just her integrity, but even her life for it? I don't think so. The temptation - sure; the desire - absolutely. But is that enough to take off her wire and head out with a possible murder suspect who knows she's not who she says she is? Cassie may still be wounded from her last case, but she's got too successful a background to make these mistakes. It was hard (and extremely frustrating) to believe them of her.
But. If you can get past all that (and it's hard), the book is more than worth it in the end. French proves herself to be a master of impulse and emotion. Though I might not buy her actions, Cassie's feelings and reactions are so believable and so truly a response to her circumstance. It was nice seeing deeper into this significant character from In the Woods and seeing her for who she was, rather than through Rob's lens. It turns out that Cassie isn't necessarily so easy to like or trust, and there's at least one major twist regarding that novel that helped to illuminate both it and her. And Cassie's immersion into Lexie's life, to the point that she merges to deeply with her to understand the other woman's motivations and claim them as her own, and then even deeper so that she differentiates again, is really sublime. French dealt with that dynamic so skillfully that it rose above the less believable parts of the plot and really made the book.
I also really enjoyed how history played into this story - not necessarily Cassie or Lexie's history, but the history of the house and the March family. The trans-generational animosity was at once believable and relatable, and Daniel March's ancestry shed some interesting light on his character.
Maybe a detective novel wasn't the right way to go about this story, but French made it work in the end. Unfortunately, she seems to have become even wordier since In the Woods and some bits really dragged, but I made it. I may not have all the answers (again, I love that French doesn't seem to think it's necessary to close every hole) but it worked.
A note on the audiobook: the narrator's Irish accent was a little distracting but completely clear, so no trouble on that account. And she does the various voices well. Not a stellar performance, but solid.