Monday, January 26, 2015
The Secret Place by Tana French
Published September 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.
In The Secret Place, French alternates chapters between Moran and Conway in the present (two loners who will have to learn to trust each other and work together) and Holly and her group of friends, both past and present, as they try desperately to hold onto the bonds of a friendship they were once certain was unbreakable. It's a tool that works well for the most part, often giving readers a peek into things the detectives have yet to discover; but it also made things just that much more confusing. Which may have been French's intent. Because if you tell me you figured out who killed Chris Harper and why before the end of the book, I'd be sorely tempted to call you a liar.
Liars, in fact abound, in The Secret Place. French's teenaged girls use lies to both hurt and protect and only through manipulation and their own lies are the detectives likely to get anything useful out of them. All of those lies will slowly unravel but the damage has long since been done by the time they do.
My favorite things about this book? The dialect, the relationship between Conway and Moran, and the Mackeys, both father and daughter. A couple of gripes: the slang occasionally felt like a bit too much and, at 452 pages, it felt about 25-30 pages too long. Some things just got a bit repetitive. But, again, since the present day portion of the book is all set within one long, draining day, perhaps French wanted readers to feel that same exhaustion, that feel of going no where. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because I really liked this book, despite a being left with a feeling of hopelessness for the characters.
If you're a fan of mysteries or have heard great things about French and want to read one of her books, start at the beginning of the series. I didn't do that. I started the series with the fourth book, Broken Harbor; this is my second in the series. Unlike other series, it's not essential to start with book one; there's not a continuum of events and not all of the characters carry through from book to book. But French does carry some characters from one book into later books (primarily moving a character that had been secondary into the forefront), and knowing the background would be helpful in understanding the interplay of the characters.