The Secret Place

20967058Author: Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sheves: Recipe for awesomesauce, Realistic Fiction

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 is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.

If one were to be extremely obtuse, one could say The Secret Place is fundamentally an extension of “So, I heard she was sleeping with him but how-don’t even-he was supposed to be shagging her…”


That could be interesting depending on the tangent it takes but here it’s Tana French, of course it was fucking fantastic, intricate, complex and frightening.

One of the things that make it incredibly hard for me to gather enough nerves to pick up books from Dublin Murder Squad series-and latterly, my grip on the book/kindle-is the actual monster of a setting she incorporates and modifies. In the first book, In the Woods-the only other one I’ve finished, shame be me!-it was location and the dark woods where three kids go to play, two never come back. Here we have the cumulative as well as compartmentalized worlds of adolescent girls. How varying it is, how many faces one puts on unknowingly or deliberately, the unwritten rules to be learned by observation and hits-and not too late.

Teenage girls are the new creepy kids/geriatrics of this book age. Only they cannot simply be used as tools: without manipulative home stories, an author needs to develop their characters in precise ways. Never too emotional or contrived, not too adult but always on the brink. I’ve come to see them as this hallmark that automatically moves unread books up a notch on my tbr. Tana French excels at almost every bloody thing, and this was not an exception. Interspersed with melancholy, desperation to hold on, walls between worlds and the occasional(or not) madness, stupidity-such stupidity and thank god for it!-fostered of blindness, that befalls people of this persuasion, she has written in this story a complicated bond to be envied, spurned, dreaded, and we see it churning, flaking, struggling and all the pieces that fall off begetting fucking catastrophes.

Speaking of bonds, another one develops slowly over the alternative chapter and yet in the space of one day between Detectives Moran(appeared before in Faithful Place) and Conway. Moran’s a guy stuck in a place that’s lost its shine, looking for beauty and opportunities-something that gets him in prickly moments with Conway, the butt of scorn from the lads in Murder, where Moran aspires to be. On the surface, they appear to be a porcupine being cozied upto by a yapping dog-but I loved the tension, the unspoken rules, here as well, that Moran needs to figure out and not a second too late.

There are other creatures to be dealt with. Teenage politics to waddle into, a headmistress to sideline, powers that be that could just ruin their lives, rich daddies and secrets. The first half of The Secret Place was kind of a mess-you could feel the frustration building in each of the characters as they got to know the girls and found jack-shit, but for sneak little clues that only confused. There is no leeway to be had, Moran and Conway get up each others’ butts figuring out this new working relationship not even a day old. As their day slowly-so slowly-moves on, in alternative chapters, we trace forward the beginning of four girls’ year until the death the book is centered around. We get to see the conditions that strengthened, and also messed up, these girls. Their idiocy(Juliaaaaa!), tiredness, need to break out. A kinda mess, but a gripping one nevertheless.

The appearance of another character, Detective Mackey, has me really keen to get to his book in the series. He’s fucking awesome.

It also includes a requisite mystery that will never be explained unless there’s some hidden, over-arching arc in all the books, and everything explodes in the next book with aliens, ghosts, plebian lotuses, dead bacteria and Cass+Rob. (Excuse me if that OTP happens to be my life.)

The mystery proceeds with caution and realism, which beget dead-ends, which beget vexation, but enough hints and terrible-seeming misdeeds/people to keep one guessing at intervals when one remembers that fuck! there’s killer that needs to be found-until the moment when one becomes obsessed with the characters again, which is a vital for a mystery novel. The moment a reader stops even trying to guessing, the book starts to lose one member of its readership.

In any case, I’d like to discuss the teen speak. One thing I found weird-yet genius-was the way the girls’ cadence changed from when they were talking to inconsequential people(in their opinions) to conversations in their own worlds, with their friends and within their minds’ confines. It changed tones just the way they changed faces every so often, as the detective pressed on and grasped questionable evidences, as their friends’ got out of danger and back in. However, that doesn’t change the fact that most of it grew tiring early on. Recovering from these regular snippets, and diving back in, was like poking one’s head into a slightly distorted world. Which bring me to: Totes amazeballs– how does one say that in a conversation? It doesn’t roll off my tongue no matter how hard I try. Is it a cultural thing? The conditioning that keeps me from being able to say it? I cannot say it. I CANNOT use it in a conversation. Much less a heated one. But whatever, to those who do manage it: go you!!!

The last chapters dealt a sideways, bittersweet blow to a theme that ran throughout the story, one hard to get over.

The Secret Place is an accomplished, enthralling story of complications and terrible places, things, situations, lengths and misconceptions. Conway and Moran don’t save the world, or come to revolutionizing conclusions; they solve a mystery, find a killer. But to limit this story within those confines is unfair and misleading. It’s the kind of book whose memory of reading you’d like to scrub from your mind-use bleach, if you have to-and go read it again. And again. The kind that is getting rarer these days, for me at least.

She hears all the voices from when she was little, soothing, strengthening: Don’t be scared, not of monsters, not of witches, not of big dogs. And now, snapping loudly from every direction: Be scared, you have to be scared, ordering like this is your one absolute duty. Be scared you’re fat, be scared your boobs are too big and be scared they’re too small. Be scared to walk on your own, specially anywhere quite enough that you can hear yourself think. Be scared of wearing the wrong stuff, saying the wrong thing, having a stupid laugh, being uncool. Be scared of guys not fancying you; be scared of guys. Be scared of girls; they’re all vicious, they’ll cut you down before you can cut them. Be scared of strangers. Be scared you won’t do well enough in your exams, be scared of getting in trouble. Be scared terrified petrified that everything you are is every kind of wrong. Good girl.

Thank you, Viking Adult!



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