The Secret Place is Tana French’s 5th novel, and she has already won multiple awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards. I previously reviewed her third novel, but that was nearly four years ago and it is my loss that I did not find my way back to her work sooner.
This story is a murder mystery which takes place on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school, Kilda, in Dublin, Ireland. What is special about this is the dialogue amongst the girls which emphasizes their cliques and their incredibly cruelty towards and dependence on one another. French’s dialogue carries the story. She poses four girls in one clique against four in another, one clique being stereotypical teen girls who are openly boy crazy and shallowly intrigued by the latest fashions. The second clique is a group who is trying to be everything the other is not. But the murder victim is a boy from the neighboring boys’ boarding school who had his designs on girls from both cliques, giving them plenty to fight about, to hate each other for.
French bounces back and forth between the development of the girls’ relationship with one another which leads to the murder of Chris Harper, and the investigation of the murder. The girls’ story extends over a couple years while the investigation, really the second investigation since the first one ended with no arrest, takes only a day. The juxtaposition of those stories serves the main plot perfectly. There is a rich interplay between the lead investigator Antoinette Conway and Detective Stephen Moran. Both Conway and Moran have something to prove to their own department and, for different reasons, both are seen as untrustworthy and damaged goods.
This novel is well written, and French kept me guessing until the end, an end that was totally satisfying. This book gets my strong recommendation, and I’ve already purchased French’s first novel, In the Woods.