Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: The Secret Place

Summary: The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption saysI KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series. -- Viking

Last week at this time, I was vacationing in Dublin, Ireland. Prior to leaving, I decided to pack Tana French's new novel THE SECRET PLACE. I knew I had a lot of travel time on planes, trains, and buses; and I figured a novel that is written by a writer who lives in Dublin and a book that takes place in that city would be perfect for the trip. Plus, how could I go wrong with Tana French?

Truth be told, the book pretty much takes place in a 24 hour period on the grounds of a boarding school, so I didn't get a "taste" of Dublin in this story like I was hoping; however, it was still a great choice to pack if I do say so myself. Ms. French has done it again. She's managed to write a riveting literary mystery that kept me guessing until the very end, and she successfully delved into some complex themes including friendship and loyalty. I think it's safe to say that I'm a bit in awe of this woman and her writing skills!

THE SECRET PLACE is another novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series and feathers Detective Stephen Moran as the narrator. Moran is desperate to get into the Murder Squad and sees his chance when Holly, a student at St. Kilda's School and a blast from Moran's past, brings him a card that was anonymously posted in "The Secret Place." "The Secret Place" is a bulletin board at the school where girls can post photos, pictures, etc. and allows them to vent; and this particular posting claimed that someone out there knew who murdered Chris Harper, a popular teen from a neighboring school. Chris' murder occurred about a year ago and was now considered a cold case, so Moran reckoned if he could solve Chris' murder, he just might be accepted on the Murder Squad.

He approaches the prickly Antoinette Conway, the woman who was in charge of the investigation; and she agrees to let him help her interview the girls at St. Kilda's. Once Moran arrives at the school, he quickly realizes that it's not going to be easy to get anything helpful from the girls. Holly and her friends have ties to Chris, but their rivals do as well. No one is willing to give much, and the detectives aren't sure who or what to believe.

Moran and Conway attempt to get to the bottom of this murder mystery, but everything they learn seems to lead to more questions. They begin to doubt everyone (even each other) as they encounter eight teenage girls who are willing to say anything to protect those they love... and hurt their rivals.

THE SECRET PLACE is nothing short of amazing! I truly am blown away by Ms. French's ability to not only create an intriguing mystery, but also her character development and literary skills. She manages to provide almost a two-in-one deal for her books, pleasing both fans of mysteries and literary novels. I am almost embarrassed to say that I've only read two of her novels, but I'm more certain than ever that I need to remedy that immediately. (Plus, I want to read more stories that take place in Dublin!)

Truly, THE SECRET PLACE kept me guessing and had more than it's fair share of twists. Like the detectives in charge of the case, I had absolutely no idea who was responsible for Chris' murder. It could have been any of them; and at times, I thought maybe none of them or even a combination of a few girls. While I appreciated being surprised by the culprit and the intricacies of the murder, I have to say that it was how the author told this story and her ability to explore some very serious issues that brought this book to the next level for me.

One thing I absolutely loved about THE SECRET PLACE was how Ms. French delivered the story. For half the story, Moran was the narrator of the novel and I really appreciated his character. He was both intelligent and rather complex with his insecurities and his desire to prove himself. The other half of the story was the girls' viewpoints on the events leading up to the murder and even what happened after the murder. I loved how she juxtaposed Moran's story and the girls', and it was an excellent way to receive the information from all sources.

In addition, I loved how the author created some very memorable characters. I really liked Moran and his "issues," and I thought the relationship between Moran and Conway was interesting to say the least. I also liked how Moran interacted with his other co-worker (Holly's father) as well as how he managed to get close to the girls for information purposes. However, I also really appreciated the eight girls that the author created. A few of these girls give new meaning to the term mean girl; and unfortunately, I could see realistic aspects of teenage girls (good and bad, but mainly bad) in each of them.

What really impressed me about THE SECRET PLACE was how it explored relationships, especially friendships. The two groups of teenage girls both had solid friendships that were very different from each other, so I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed. In addition, Moran and his fellow police officers also had some intriguing aspects of "friendship" that often times mirrored the girls' relationships. I loved how the theme of friendship was explored with all of its complexities as well as how loyalty and betrayal were presented.

I can't think of a better book to select for your next book club that THE SECRET PLACE. Fortunately, I found this reading guide with eleven questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include friendships, relationships, parent/child relationships, secrets, loyalty, betrayal, mean girls, peer pressure, jealousy, and wealth. My book club is made up primarily of mom to teenage girls, so I can only imagine how much fun we'd have discussing this novel!

THE SECRET PLACE is a must-read for fans of literary mysteries. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Beth F said...

I can't believe I haven't read French yet. Sounds like I'm really missing out.

bermudaonion said...

Ti sent me one of French's books years ago and I have yet to read it. I've got to get to it because I'm sure I'll love it! This one sounds wonderful!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

This is next up for me as soon as I finish The Children's Act. It's my first Tana French and I've heard great things, so I'm looking forward to it!

Sandy Nawrot said...

In my mind, in the area of literary mysteries, she is as good as it gets. Bar none. (And just so you know, the audios are SPECTACULAR. I will not read her books in print, even if I have to wait.) You must read them all, and if you can, in order. I just started this one. I think I got it loaded on my iPod in record time. I came in, sat down at the computer, and didn't get up until all 16 discs were loaded.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I"ve never read any Tara French, but I'm not sure why. Every time I see one of her books it looks so interesting!