What seems to be a typical hit-and-run case at first takes a dark, mysterious turn in new thriller The Resemblance by Lauren Nossett.
A fast, fun read, that is nearly impossible to put down, The Resemblance is Nossett’s fiction debut, and it’s worth noting that the author is also a former professor with a Ph.D. in German literature. This is presumably why so many of the academic details feel realistic. As someone who also teaches at a university, I especially appreciate that kind of attention to detail regarding campus life. It’s not as cliché or romanticized as it often can be in fiction.
The narration is beautifully written and there’s great detail given to the setting, which makes this an immediately enjoyable read. The story also takes very little time diving into the action, which involves Marlitt Kaplan, a police detective who admittedly seeks out danger.
While Marlitt is visiting her mother, a professor at the University of Georgia, an incident occurs: a hit-and-run resulting in a student’s death that feels suspicious right from the start. The victim, Jay Kemp, is a university student and a member of the Kappa Phi Omicron fraternity. But there are two things that make this case mysterious and unsettling. First, several witnesses report that it appeared the driver was smiling when he hit the victim. Second, the driver looked just like him.
Marlitt wants desperately to be on the case. That’s partly due to her ambition: she wants a case that feels important, and she feels like she has something to prove. But more than that, something from her past makes this case personal for her. And it’s that personal connection, which we learn more and more about as the novel progresses, that ultimately makes The Resemblance so intriguing. That connection is why Marlitt has a strong hatred of Greek life, and it calls her motives into question while simultaneously bringing up deep-seated trauma from her past. It’s also part of what makes this story so relatable.
Marlitt and her partner Teddy are assigned to work on the case, which brings them to the Kap-O frat house. As they continue their investigation, they learn more about the fraternity and its members than they could have imagined—and it’s not pretty. And it’s this element that helps make this story so much more than a standard “whodunnit” mystery. The Resemblance is timely in that regard, criticizing the horrors that can be possible within fraternity culture.
Granted, some of this is a little heavy-handed, and there are a few details that don’t quite add up, but it’s engaging to read nonetheless. The control, the power dynamics, and the elitism are just the beginning. These students are well-connected beyond the university, and all seem to feel invincible and above the law, which makes the case even more difficult to solve. There’s also the way the fraternity objectifies women, and the story takes time to explore that element as well as Marlitt and Teddy work the case. This is done with great care, too, largely focusing on a female point of view. It is the hazing, however, that really makes your stomach turn, and there are several uncovered secrets that are admittedly hard to read.
The case takes a few wild, unexpected turns, and it’s when the novel launches into Part 2 that it becomes even more of a page-turner. We’re talking the kind of completely unexpected twists that will make you gasp out loud, all told with impeccable, captivating detail.
My main complaint with the novel is that there are several occasions where the narration doesn’t feel authentic. Marlitt’s inner dialogue becomes over-the-top at times, as though it’s an attempt at humor that doesn’t quite land. Still, it’s not enough to take away from the otherwise thoughtful storytelling.
As Marlitt works the case, it winds up being life-changing in more ways than one. She learns a lot about herself along the way – and it’s not all positive.
Marlitt is flawed, and it’s noteworthy that the narration reveals some difficult inward reflection on her behalf. And seeing her realize when she’s made mistakes only makes you want to root for her more. Marlitt’s relationship with her partner, Teddy, is also a big part of this story. Their relationship is complex, and it becomes even more so as they continue to work the case together and their friendship hits a few roadblocks.
Marlitt’s relationship with her parents is also crucial to the story. As mentioned, Marlitt’s mother is a professor at the local university, and she’s grown up being around that environment. Her relationship with her father, however, is the most interesting, largely because of his overprotective nature. There’s a reason why Marlitt is inclined to seek out danger – and a reason why she wound up working as a detective. That family dynamic is another element that makes The Resemblance a genuinely relatable story. It becomes important in Marlitt’s own journey as well, as she starts to question some parts of her childhood.
What’s most enjoyable about The Resemblance, though, is that every detail, every element of the story gets a payoff. This is an intricately told tale, where foreshadowing is woven throughout in careful ways, leaving the reader with an ending that is somewhat abrupt, yet still quite satisfying. It’s a dark, fascinating thriller that doesn’t take the obvious way out.
Ashley Bissette Sumerel is an English Instructor who loves reading dystopian fiction and stories about vampires. She’s also a TV Critic and the Editor-in-Chief of Tell-Tale TV. Find her on Twitter @ashleybsumerel.