by Tana French
After Tana French’s first three crime novels, which were all fabulous, she hasn’t quite managed to hit as high a note.
As French has done in the previous novels, she weaves the current story around a character who played a minor part in a previous story. The Secret Place takes us back to the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, and front and center is Holly Mackey, daughter of Detective Frank Mackey who starred in Faithful Place (my personal favorite of her novels so far). The novel opens with sixteen-year old Holly, who lives at a prestigious boarding school, bringing an anonymous card to one Detective Stephen Moran, who has been relegated to the Cold Cases division where her daddy works. The card claims to know the identity of the person who murdered a boy from a neighboring boarding school a year before; Holly claims to have found the card pinned to a “confessions” bulletin board (known as “The Secret Place” – that is, the place for secrets) at school. Detective Moran would love a shot at moving up the ladder to Murder, and this may be his shot. Problem is, he’ll have to ingratiate himself to – and seriously impress – head of Murder, Antoinette Conway, who is one hard bitch.
Moran and Conway set off for St. Kilda’s school for girls to investigate the source of the anonymous card, hoping it will lead, finally, to a resolution of the murder of young Chris Harper. At the heart of the day’s investigation are the two prominent girl cliques: Holly and her three closest friends (“They’re my family!”), and a rival group. The two groups of girls hate each other.
I was taken in right away by French’s almost intoxicating gift of putting down dialogue and descriptions. You can almost hear the Irish coming off the pages. The mystery of who killed Chris Harper is intriguing, and I wanted to know who did it. French also does a good job of conveying the mean girl stuff you hear about – whoowee, can teenage girls be horrible! However, the story became somewhat tedious, as the entire book spans the course of one day with Detectives Moran and Conway interrogating students and searching dorms, with flashbacks of the previous year thrown in. Also, an element of the supernatural was thrown in, with one group of girls for some reason being able to turn lights on and off with their minds, levitate stuff, and so forth. I thought that was unnecessary to the story and diminished its credibility. Finally, there are so many slurs against the intellectually disabled – it was a total turnoff. “Saint Fucktardius” stands out, and so many “retarded”s, “idiot”s, and “moron”s that I lost count.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was okay, but not stellar.