Tana French is back with her fifth book in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, The Secret Place. This time, teen Holly Mackey brings detective Stephen Moran a clue on a year-old murder at her private boarding school, St. Kilda’s. Holly is the daughter of detective Frank Mackey from French’s previous book, Faithful Place, in which we also saw Stephen Moran first debut as a supporting character. New York Times book reviewer Janet Maslin predicted in 2010, “If Ms. French keeps chain-linking her novels together, so that a supporting character in one becomes the protagonist of the next . . . Stephen will star in a book of his own some day.” The Secret Place is Stephen Moran’s big break to make it off the cold cases department and into the murder squad.
One year earlier, Chris Harper, a handsome and popular student at the neighboring boys’ school was found dead, overnight, in a cypress grove at the girls’ school. The case had languished until Holly brings in a note from the anonymous-secrets bulletin board, the titular Secret Place, that claims that somebody knows who-done-it. Detective Moran teams up with the previous detective on the case, the maligned no-nonsense Antoinette Conway who is fighting sexism and the sting of being unable to solve her first murder.
The book is well-plotted and suspenseful (so suspenseful that I stayed up late reading it even though I was ill and exhausted) and has a dash of the uncanny or supernatural. French has a gift for characters and fully develops the primary suspects, eight teenage girls. Both the four girls from the popular clique and Holly and her three friends, the ‘weirdos’ or independent non-clique, are uniquely created. I stress: that’s a true gift to make eight teen girls into individuals! Equally as compelling is Moran’s interviews with all eight witnesses, in which he takes a different tack and approaches each girl according to her own ego needs in order to get at the truth.
As with the other Murder Squad books, department politics forms a strong subplot as Moran’s and Conway’s careers are on the line as they search for a solve. Frank Mackey even makes a larger-than-cameo appearance.
Gripping, insightful, and full of delightful teen and Irish slang, this is a strong addition to French’s series, although this book also stands alone. (The series is loosely linked.) A small downside is that because it is set in a self-contained boarding school, we American readers and lovers of all things Irish don’t get a vicarious view of the rest of Dublin. Double bonus points for nick-naming a character “Father Voldemort” (the priest and Head of the boys’ school).
Craft Notes: A must-read for writers interested in creating multiple unique teenage characters and members of cliques who don’t blend together indistinguishably. This is an alternating narrative switching between the teenagers’ points of view from a year earlier and Moran’s present-day investigation. Moran’s interviews are also notable for dialogue or insight into police interviewing.
For Further Information: Tana French’s website
To purchase on Amazon