Tana French’s The Likeness, the basis for much of Cassie’s story line on Dublin Murders, is, for a murder mystery, an exceptionally cozy novel. Although not quite a locked-room mystery (there is always the possibility that someone outside the house killed Lexie), it feels cordoned off, and mainly revolves around the five housemates moving from room to room in stately Whitethorn House, the Georgian pile that Daniel has inherited from his family and invited his friends to make their own. “This was the real thing,” Cassie, who narrates the novel, thinks to herself, “one serious do-not-fuck-with-me house with the strength and pride and grace to outlast everyone who saw it.”
The house is part of the allure of the case for Cassie. Gazing at it, she worries Whitethorn will “whisk itself away to nothing” if she doesn’t decide to play Lexie. And once inside, she falls in love with its character and history. For an orphan, a home with a past — along with a cadre of almost obsessively close friends — is like a replacement childhood, a replacement family. It’s no wonder that Cassie falls for it, or that she wedges her way in so tightly that it becomes hard for her to wiggle back out.
Dublin Murders gets the house almost exactly right — the chipped china and mahogany side tables and portraits of long-gone ancestors. It turns Lexie’s room into a boudoir of sorts, a little more Stevie Nicks than I’d anticipated, but appropriately sexy and rock and roll, with plenty of crushed velvet. The garden especially, with its fairy lights and high walls, is a delightful trap, a Garden of Eden that you aren’t allowed to leave.
But the show demolishes the comfort and claustrophobia of the novel by weaving Cassie’s story line in with Rob’s, jerking us out of Whitethorn (which is, sadly, nameless in the show — every Irish estate deserves a name!) and bouncing us back and forth between the two narratives. And the slow familiarity that Cassie accrues with the house and the mates — Daniel, Rafe, Justin, and Abby — is upended by the show’s insane rush to put the group at each other’s throats. Sure, I can admit that the show is trying to do something slightly different than the novel, and it isn’t always helpful to assume that the two media should act as carbon copies of each other. But the ease with which Cassie settles in among these strangers, the utter comfort she feels being someone else, is the interior arc of the entire novel. Playing it down is like having Emma Bovary just sort of shrug her shoulders when she gets another bill in the mail.
Cassie looks viscerally uncomfortable every single moment she’s with Lexie’s housemates, her eyes darting back and forth to take in every single shrug and glance. She looks like … a cop undercover who is trying to get to the bottom of a mystery; it’s pretty weird how bad of an actress a very good actress (Sarah Greene) can play. It’s no wonder that the housemates catch on pretty quickly to the fact that Cassie is an imposter — she stands next to those cutlery drawers for a solid hour before remembering which one holds the forks, takes a 30-second pause before laughing to cover up the fact that she’s eating onions (which Lexie loathed), and knocks over a goddamn glass while she’s spying on Daniel and Abby in the garden. Amateur hour!
If Cassie is meant to tease information out of the housemates, she’s doing a pretty shitty job. She tries to play casual while asking them where they thought she was on the night she was stabbed. Absolutely zero people would act casual in this situation. Every one of us would walk in the front door and start screaming, “I was stabbed and you didn’t even come look for me, what sort of shitty damn friends are you?” But Cassie drops it into conversation like she’s wondering if anyone has seen a mislaid glove. They tell her they thought she’d gone on a walk (for 12 hours?) and they were all too busy playing poker to notice that she might be dead. Whoops!
There is also an absolutely laughable amount of clandestine shit going on in this house. Whispers wake Cassie: She tiptoes out her door and discovers not one but two secret chats, both of which involve secret love affairs, and one of which includes some light cocaine use and hidden sexuality. In under ten minutes she learns that Rafe has a drug problem and is secretly sleeping with Justin and that Abby and Daniel have a little fling going, too. Under ten minutes! She is also alternately keeping her gun tucked into the top of a pair of thigh-highs (hmm), taped to the back of her nightstand (hmmm), and then pushed underneath a statue in the parlor (hmmmm), but let’s just ignore this Chekhovian nightmare-in-waiting.
Renewing Lexie’s nightly walks is one of Cassie’s better ideas. Bringing along the mates and then having a faux attack of reappearing memories in front of the tree where she knows Lexie was stabbed is an even better one. But again, the walks yield results so quickly I’m wondering why they’re even bothering with two more episodes. On her second night out there — bam! — a mystery man (whom we’ve seen with the “real” Lexie before) leaps out of the woods with a contract (?) for her and a check for €200,000 for some unmentioned act. Cassie chats him up to €300,000 but never manages to learn a single thing about what exactly she’s being paid to do.
And the info keeps coming! Lexie’s baby’s father is Rafe! Cassie reveals the “miscarriage” to Abby! Cassie herself is (maybe? What is happening???) pregnant! Daniel has a gun! And every single case Rob and Cassie are working are intertwined! Not only does Cassie bump into Alanna in a local grocery store (the informant from the first episode who had her hair cut off, in case you’re getting all these characters confused), but when the crew wanders down to the local pub to piss off the neighbors and taunt the local yokel who threw a rock into their window, he’s sitting with none other than the man who gave Cassie the contract! That local is also pissed at the Knocknaree campaign Move the Motorway, and more specifically, angry with Daniel and his family because they’re fighting to keep the highway out of their (entirely separate) village! I’m running out of my yearly quota of exclamation points writing all this down because it is just so much. (!)
This is precisely the sort of stunt that worries readers when they learn a favorite novel has been optioned for TV. There is no good reason for the cases to be mixed up together, and doing so destroys the integrity of both. Next thing you know we’ll learn that Cassie’s parents’ fatal car accident was caused by Simone the ballet teacher and Justin the roommate, who are secretly a brother and sister having a torrid love affair, or something like that. These are the makings of what could have been a meticulously paced ten-episode series, and instead is a jam-packed rush to cram two novels into one — 20 pounds of shot in a one-pound cannon. Why, why, whyyyyyy? The Frenchies deserve better.
As Cassie spins drunkenly around the garden, having sacrificed her vigilance for a few cocktails, it’s fairly obvious this won’t end well and that suspicion is circling her. And so just one full episode after she moves into the house, she ends up with Daniel’s hand around her throat and him snarling, “Who the fuck are you?” Four hundred-and-fifty pages squeezed into 60 minutes, with all the air sucked out like a vacuum storage bag.
Can’t wait for next week!