I’ll admit I groaned when I learned that Tana French’s fifth Dublin Murder Squad novel centered around teenage girls at a private school. The intense...more I’ll admit I groaned when I learned that Tana French’s fifth Dublin Murder Squad novel centered around teenage girls at a private school. The intense emotional lives of adolescent females have attracted the interest of a lot of writers lately, and few seem to have anything new to say about the cliques, the secrets, the sexual fantasies, the stupid behavior that arises from the ignorance and arrogance of the young. But this was Tana French, who hasn’t bored me yet. So of course I read The Secret Place.
I wasn’t disappointed. While French’s teens can be as obnoxious and pathetic as any others, they are also dangerous. Some of them may know more than they’re telling about a murder on school grounds. One of them may be the killer.
Holly Mackey, the 16-year-old daughter of Detective Frank Mackey (the protagonist in Faithful Place) and a student at St. Kilda’s School, stirs fresh interest in a stalled investigation when she brings potential new evidence to Detective Stephen Moran of the cold case squad. A year before, a popular boy named Chris Harper, who attended a nearby boys’ school, was found dead in a field at St. Kilda’s. Police were unable to solve the crime. Now Holly brings Moran a photo of the dead boy she found pinned to a notice board at school. Glued to the photo is a message composed of print cut from a magazine: I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
Moran, languishing in a police department backwater, seizes the opportunity to get in on a major homicide case. He takes the card to Detective Antoinette Conway, lead investigator in the Harper murder. She doesn’t like Moran, she doesn’t like being reminded that she failed to solve the case, but he’s willing and handy, so she takes him along on a visit to St. Kilda’s to ferret out the girl who posted the photo. Both detectives are inner city Dubliners and fiercely ambitious, but in other ways they’re polar opposites. Moran is dazzled by the beautiful old school buildings and lavish grounds. Conway despises all of it and the class distinctions it represents, and wishes she could toss a petrol bomb at the idyllic scene. Conway is a hard-charger in interviews, while Moran plays good cop and tries to lull people into revealing what they know. Despite their prickly relationship, though, they work well together, promptly focusing on two rival cliques—one made up of Holly Mackey and her roommates—who had ties to Chris Harper. All the girls seem to be hiding things from the police, and more than one looks like a reasonable murder suspect.
Throughout a long day of questioning the students, the St. Kilda’s nuns and its secular headmistress hover, determined to protect the school from further negative fallout, and Detective Frank Mackey steps in to protect his own daughter, even if it means leaving a murder unsolved.
The present-day investigation scenes alternate with flashbacks that follow the girls through the year preceding Chris Harper’s murder. French’s depiction of teenage behavior is pitch-perfect as she slowly reveals the truth about the boy whom “everybody loved” and the girls whose lives he touched. Most mystery readers try to identify the killer in advance, and I usually succeed, but I didn't this time. The one element that annoyed me, and seemed superfluous, was a minor touch of woo-woo that never led anywhere.
If you don't understand today's teenagers, can't believe (despite all the evidence) that they actually behave this way, and can't bear the way they talk, this book is not for you. But you'll be passing up an excellent mystery.
Each of French’s novels so far has focused on a different member of the Dublin Murder Squad. Her next book, though, will feature Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran working as partners again, with Conway narrating the story. These characters are good together, and another pairing will be welcome.
The publisher provided a free hardcover copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.(less)
I enjoyed The Accident very much, although I'll admit I didn't love it the way I loved Pavone's first novel. As a writer, I delighted in the inside lo...moreI enjoyed The Accident very much, although I'll admit I didn't love it the way I loved Pavone's first novel. As a writer, I delighted in the inside look at publishing, writing, selling, promoting. Although the premise -- which I can't explain without spoiling the book for those who haven't read it -- might seem farfetched to some readers, it was all too plausible to me. (less)