Auntie M is a huge fan of Tana French’s books, so she was excited to read her newest, The Secret Place. And she’s happy to report it’s another incredible winner. This writer just keeps getting better and better, with complex and compelling plots, believable characters, and that gritty realism that has been her forte` all along.
One of the devices French uses is to bring a previously seen character into the new action, and she does just that in using Det. Frank Mackey (Faithful Place) and his daughter Holly as characters when Det. Stephen Moran, working Cold Cases, gets his chance at a murder case, and what a case it turns out to be.
Moran has been wanting to be part of Dublin’s Murder Squad and his chance appears in the form of Holly Mackey, who shows up at his precinct bearing a clue to the murder the previous year of a male student from the neighboring school of St. Kilda’s, where Holly boards.
The Secret Place is a board at St. Kilda’s where girls can leave notes, postcards and other messages of their secrets, a ventilation board if you will, and is usually a place of gossip and innuendo. This message is designed to bring back the stalled investigation, which has frustrated Detective Antoinette Conway, she of the sharp chin, slick clothes and demeanor to match.
Conway grudgingly allows Moran to accompany her to St. Kilda’s to interview the students. It quickly becomes whittled down to two sets of four friends, one including Holly Mackey. And here Moran gets his chance to shine. Conway interviewed all of these girls during the initial investigation. She allows Moran to play questioner and he lets his chameleon personality loose on each girl, divining which approach will lead to the most usable information.
The tension rises as the two detectives, not friends by any means, testing each other as they go along, throw out different theories and dig deeper and deeper into the lives of eight teenage girls. Who has the most to lose? Who would have the courage to whack a lone male teen over the head and leave him for dead? The dialogue is pure teen and yet they girls remain distinct and different. The two sets of four have completely different bonds, too, which in the end will lead to tragedy.
It is to French’s credit that we hardly realize all of these scenes take place over one tense day. She keeps the reader riveted to the page as the girls secrets are torn loose, with an ending so unexpected you will be as surprised as the girls are to find the real murderer. Just how far will someone go in the name of friendship an loyalty? Highly recommended.