The Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The fifth installment in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series reintroduces some familiar faces, notably Holly Mackey, Frank Mackey, and Stephen Moran from French's Faithful Place. Detective Moran is toiling away in Cold Cases, dreaming of joining the Murder Squad, when Holly shows up. She holds in her hand a card reading "I know who killed him," featuring a photo of Chris Harper, a handsome boy from a private school who was killed a year ago. Suddenly, Stephen finds himself inserted into the middle of St. Kilda's School, Holly's private all-girls' school, the neighborhood school to Chris', and the place where his body was found. Stephen joins up with the Murder Squad's Detective Antoinette Conway, one of the original leads on Chris' case, to find out what happened. But Stephen quickly realizes that Antoinette isn't a popular figure in the Squad, and that the girls of St. Kilda's are a tight-knit, complicated bunch whose interconnected relationships present Conway and Moran many obstacles in finding Chris' killer. Can they find the killer before the girls close ranks for good?
This was a typical Tana French mystery in many ways. This novel is compelling, as always, featuring thoughtful and reflective characters and a detailed, well-plotted mystery. The story is told in alternating chapters by Stephen (in the present-day) and then flashes back to various sections told by the girls of St. Kilda's, who are telling bits of the story leading up to Chris' death. It's an excellent technique because Stephen's portion covers basically 24 hours, as he and Antoinette rush to solve the crime before the girls can cover their tracks once and for all. But by going into the past, French effectively builds suspense and allows us to meet the various teens in her tale (about eight in all, which is a lot at times).
Overall, she does an good job of capturing teen culture: particularly, I'm sure, the culture of British teens in boarding school (shockingly, something I'm not too familiar with). While the descriptions of the girls gets a little tedious (a lot of blond, straightened hair), their personalities are clear and develop easily over the course of the novel. The commentary on the bonds of teen friendship is excellent. For me, Stephen wasn't one of my all-time favorite French protagonists, but I enjoyed the dynamic between him and Conway and how the window into their lives is basically less than 24 hours.
The mystery portion was a little less enjoyable for me than some of French's other novels and a bit of a let down at the end, but it was still a great read. One of my favorite things about French's books is how they easily transport you into another world while reading--you find yourself lost in the characters and their world--and this one was no exception. 3.5 strong stars. I'm looking forward to her next novel, which is supposed to feature Conway again.
You can find my review of French's previous novel, "Broken Harbor," here.
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