The Likeness started with a conversation in the pub – I live in Dublin, so almost everything starts with a conversation in the pub. Around the time I was beginning to think about a second book, a bunch of my friends and I were out one night, and we were talking about the theory that everyone has a double, somewhere in the world. It turned out that every one of us had been told, at some point, ‘Oh, my friend’s boyfriend’s cousin looks exactly like you!’ or something like that – but not one of us had ever actually met our double. We were all wondering what it would feel like – what if you and your double made friends? Or what if you couldn’t stand each other? Would you have other things in common, beside that shared face? If you happened to meet at a moment when one of you was psychologically fragile, what would that do to your sense of identity?
Since I was looking for ideas, I started thinking about that as the starting point for a story. And then, because I write mysteries and in a mystery novel you more or less have to kill someone off, I started wondering what it would feel like to meet your double when it was too late – when she was already dead, when you were the only person who could find out who she was and what had happened to her, and when the only way to get to know her was to become her.
The Likeness came out of that image: Detective Cassie Maddox, from In the Woods, shows up at a crime scene and finds a victim who not only looks like her but is using her old undercover identity, Lexie Madison. She ends up going back undercover as Lexie, to tempt the killer out of hiding to finish the job. But Cassie’s at a very fragile moment in her own life, and Lexie’s world is a very tempting one: a tightly knit group of friends sharing a huge, beautiful, ramshackle house in the countryside outside Dublin. Gradually, she starts to fall deeper and deeper into Lexie’s life, and to lose hold of her own.
In a lot of ways it’s a book about identity, and what a tricky, vulnerable thing it is. I think most of us have had at least one moment when we want to simply leave our own lives behind, just put them down and walk away. In The Likeness, some of the characters actually follow that impulse: they try to erase their old selves and start over from scratch. But it’s a dangerous thing to do, messing about with identity, and it doesn’t work out exactly the way they’d imagined…
The Likeness is publsihed by Hodder & Stoughton