A review of The Secret Place, by Tana French
When sixteen-year-old Chris Harper is found murdered at St. Kilda’s, a private Irish girls’ school, the police struggle to find the killer. Eventually the case goes cold.
A year later, Holly Mackey, a student at the school and the daughter of a policeman, turns up at the station to speak to Detective Stephen Moran. She brings with her a photograph of the dead boy that she found on the school noticeboard. A photograph with the words ‘I know who killed him’ printed across it.
The police return to the school and find themselves caught up in the mysterious drama surrounding Chris’ death, as they struggle to find those responsible.
Half crime thriller, half coming of age story, this novel alternates between the police investigation and the last few months before the murder. It’s not a typical crime novel, mostly because of the focus on two groups of teenage girls, who are at the centre of the story.
The writer has managed to capture the intensity of adolescent friendships in a powerful way. Holly and her friends – Julia, Selena and Rebecca – don’t fit in with the other girls, because they don’t care about boys or what other people think of them. They genuinely care only about each other and the magic that exists between them, something that leaps off the page with French’s often unusual prose.
At times this novel is beautifully written: it’s dramatic and intense and poetic. But there are occasions when the style seems a little forced and overwritten, but ultimately that never takes away from the story.
French writes teenage girls brilliantly, for the most part; although there is a gaggle of girl gang characters who don’t always ring true, mostly for their completely unironic use of phrases like ‘totes amazeballs’.
For the detectives, both brought up in a rough part of Dublin, arriving at this expensive private school is like entering another world, one where they don’t belong. They’re forced to move very carefully as they interview the teenagers, all of whom resist the detectives at every turn. But their interviews also allow them to understand something about the nature of the girls they are interrogating and what their friendships mean to them.
Perhaps a little longer than it needs to be and ultimately a little unconvincing on the killer’s motive, this is actually an excellent, character driven read that draws the reader in. There are some spot on observations of the way the relationships you have as a teenager can affect you for the rest of your life, but it’s also a sad reflection on the way things can go wrong so unexpectedly and change the your plans forever.
Find out more:
The Secret Place on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Secret Place on Goodreads
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this novel from the Amazon Vine Programme in exchange for an honest review.