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.
The Secret Place by Tana French
Publication Date: January 1, 2014 by Hachette Books
Okay, so this book has slightly disrupted my love affair with Tana French’s novels. I absolutely LOVED Faithful Place and basically finished off Broken Harbour feeling super smitten and thinking Tana French could do no wrong. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like The Secret Place, but just that there were elements of it that I didn’t enjoy and that was hard to accept after reading the prior two novels and falling absolutely in love with French’s writing.
The Secret Place is a pulse-raising, complicated murder mystery much like the previous four novels in the series. What’s different about this one is that it tackles the world of (privileged) teenage girls at the same time. The details of Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me – seeing all the nuances (both good and bad) of what it means to be a young girl – the friendships, the struggle to fit in while still finding one’s own identity, the thrill and danger of the opposite sex, etc – those elements that worked so well in Abbott’s work is also present here in The Secret Place.
‘If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods.’
Teenage girls are pretty terrifying creatures and French plays right into that idea with characters that make me happy not to be in high school anymore. They not only pose a threat to one another, but to the adults as well and French does a fantastic job of highlighting that danger throughout the book. I felt reminded of the massive fight scene in the movie Mean Girls except in a much more indirect, frightening way.
I also really liked the relationship between Detective Conway and Detective Moran. I had liked Moran from the small glimpse I had of him from Faithful Place and was excited to see him as the narrator of this book. Despite the book being told from Moran’s point of view, Conway held her own as a character and I’m excited to continue on with The Trespasser and learn more about her.
Even though plenty of readers have shared that French’s books do not have to be read in order, I’m glad I made the choice to stick with them in that way. It was fun to have Detective Mackey made an appearance again and to see his daughter, Holly, now that several years have passed. There was something gratifying to have the story lines of prior books connect again even in such a small way with The Secret Place.
So not everything was unicorn and rainbows with this book. While all of the above details were enough to immerse me in the story, there were a few aspects that I just couldn’t enjoy. One was the somewhat supernatural element to the book. This wasn’t something that had ever been a part of French’s prior novels and it felt out of place in this one. The second issue I had was with the dialogue of the teenagers. OMG and lol like, whatever. PLEASE NEVER AGAIN. As someone who works in a high school, I had a hard time understanding why French would portray such intelligent, at times devious, young women as the same girls who talk like broken Barbie dolls. This didn’t seem realistic to me and I found myself excited to move on to the alternating chapters narrated by Detective Moran just to get a break from the brain-melting dialogue.
Despite my few gripes, overall I really enjoyed the book. While it may not have lived up to the standards that Faithful Place created, it was still a fascinating murder mystery. I’m also by no means deterred from French’s other books and am excited to read more of Conway and Moran in The Trespasser.