Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French
I received this book via The Reading Room without much knowledge of the writer. After finishing this mystery, I read a few other reviews and have discovered that this is the fifth in a series called ‘Dublin Murder Squad’. From what I can gather, the leads have not featured in any previous books, but one of the minor characters did (and this is obvious from the way he shines out from the pages in his almost cameo appearance in this book, so I can understand/see he is obviously beloved by the readers and the writer alike).
Most reviewers also say that this is their least favourite of the series. If this is the case, I must invest in some of the earlier books because I enjoyed this one immensely.
It starts with Detective Moran receiving a visit from Holly, a teenage girl who was once a star witness in an earlier case he worked on. Holly is a student at a private boarding school, St Kilda’s. About a year ago, a male student from the neighbouring boys’ school was murdered in St Kilda’s grounds. The murderer was never caught, but Holly has found evidence that one of her fellow students might know more than they originally stated and are ready to reveal this knowledge to the police.
The case is a perfect way for Moran to get out of his current position in cold cases to the more prestigious murder squad. However, this interim promotion means he will need to work with the current lead detective of the case, Detective Conway.
Conway has quite the reputation. She has neither tried to ingratiate herself with any of her colleagues, nor the parents/teachers/students at the school whilst working this case, and as such basically everyone hates her and is waiting for her to fail spectacularly. This means Moran is facing a catch 22 situation. He needs to get on with Conway to solve the case/get into murder squad full time, but he needs to separate himself from Conway to get any further with solving the case/getting into murder squad full time.
The book is written with chapters alternating between Moran’s first person point of view in the present tense, to those written in the third person with the various school girls’ point of view in the past tense; this past tense time setting moving from before the murder along to the climatic chapter near the end showing who the killer is.
Conway and Moran are fantastic characters, and if I do have a gripe about the book, it’s that we got too many school girl scenes/chapters and not enough Conway/Moran ones. (I was quite confused which girl was which in the beginning too.)
Conway and Moran’s at first prickly relationship and their dawning realisation that they are working well together, despite everything, was compulsive reading. I found their blossoming relationship sweet on many levels, but if you’re into a grittier read, don’t worry, it’s just my romantic heart.
I took a star off for almost supernatural themes that were introduced midway through the novel. I don’t understand them at all. They weren’t needed, and really, in the end, they made little sense.
Even though this is part of the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ series, the Irish setting wasn’t overpowering.
French’s prose is lovely and at times I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to wallow in her perfect metaphors. 4/5