Years ago I started the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. I read the first two novels and enjoyed them very much. Then, as is the case more and more, I had so many other titles to read that I said to myself “Someday I’ll finish that series”. Well someday didn’t come. My TBR (to be read) pile has grown exponentially and I just didn’t get back to it. So… when NetGalley offered the 5th book in the same series for review I requested it. Anyone who knows me knows that reading a series out of order is something I NEVER DO!
“The secret place” is a novel that is very satisfying even for those who have not read the preceding titles. A police procedural mystery / psychological thriller very heavy on characterization rather than action. The events in the novel take place in an Irish girls boarding school over the course of only one day (with flashbacks to the previous year). Quite a feat in that the novel was 458 pages!
Speaking of length, I did find that the novel was over long. I understand why Tana French included all the detail she did, but I feel she could have told her story more succinctly. The author is an expert at writing dialogue which is evidenced in this novel. “The secret place” relies on conversation throughout most of the narrative. I was ever so slightly annoyed by the use of ‘Yeah?’ and ‘But’ as the last word of sentences – to be fair she was probably attempting to stay true to the colloquialisms of the novel’s setting – but it was off-putting all the same.
The story begins with Holly Mackay, one of the boarding school students, coming to the police station asking for a specific detective. She has brought with her a card that says “I know who killed him” with a photograph of a handsome young boy who was murdered on the school’s grounds one year previously. The card was left in the school’s ‘secret place’. A bulletin board wall where the students can leave anonymous messages to vent their frustrations or tell of misdemeanors and secrets. The detective she asks for is Stephen Moran who works in the cold case department. Moran is intelligent, charismatic and ambitious. He in turn takes the card to the ‘Murder Squad’ and Antoinette Conway, one of the Murder’s Squad’s detectives who worked the case the previous year with no success. She took her non-success to solve the teenager’s murder as a personal failure that has plagued her for a year, so she is anxious for this new piece of evidence to result in some closure to the case. Moran is permitted to accompany Conway to the school. Both detectives come from humble beginnings so they are out of their comfort zone in this school which is only available to the privileged. Conway is known on the squad for being an abrasive person who is hard to get along with, but Moran – in one day – seems to have developed a mutually shared rapport with her that was a pleasure to read.
Holly Mackay and her three boarding school roommates are a tight-knit bunch. They are a very insular group that does not share the interests of the other students. They do not wear trendy clothes, lots of make-up etc. And foremost they don’t flirt with the boys from the neighboring boys’ boarding school. They have actually made a pact that their friendship would trump any other relationship they might encounter. Because of this attitude the other students find the four strange and of course what they don’t understand they belittle and ostracize…
Tana French shows a deep understanding of the teenage girl psyche. She writes with an empathy and understanding of adolescence and the boarding school experience that can only have come from personal experience. She explores the brief and transitional time before the ‘real world’ intrudes and relationships are everything – future plans are grandiose and obtainable. She writes of first love and the strength and immediacy of the adolescent emotions. How a girl’s first love can put her female friendships to the test. The magical time when friendships appear definite and true engendering loyalties unlike anything a mere adult can possibly have experienced. When the detectives interview the students these loyalties are sorely tested but not found wanting. It is only the extreme intelligence and cunning of the two police officers that culminate in finding a suspect. How this comes about is through skillful and masterful storytelling.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of “The Secret Place“.