The Secret Place: A Novel by Tana French (New York: Viking, 2014. 529 pp)
Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the U.S. and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theatre, film, and voicover.
The Need to Rise above the Noise
Sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and read something uncritically. While a book has the power to transform a mindset, or present a compelling argument artistically, depth isn’t necessary. It can be refreshing to sit back and read. Although Tana French’s The Secret Place offers this kind of experience, I would not suggest it rises above the noise.
A Murder Mystery
The Secret Place begins with a teenager in the cold cases department. Holly Mackey possesses what she believes is new evidence for a murder that occurred over a year ago on the grounds of her boarding school.
A young Chris Harper discovered in the woods, death by blunt-force trauma. Everyone assumed the gardener did it. He was arrested soon after for drug possession.
But here comes Holly with a new clue, a picture of Chris with typography spelling out, “I know who killed him,” posted outside the art room on a message board called “The Secret Place.”
“’There’s a board,’ she said. ‘In school. A noticeboard. It’s on the top floor, across from the art room. It’s called the Secret Place. If you’ve got a secret, like if you hate your parents or you like a guy or whatever, you can put it on a card and stick it up there’” (9).
The cold case detective? Stephen Moran, a once up-and-comer now resigned to cold case work.
Detective Moran has history with Holly:
“When Holly was nine, ten, she was a witness in a murder case. The case wasn’t mine, but I was the one she’d talk to. I took her statement; I prepped her to testify at the trial. She didn’t want to do it, did it anyway. Maybe her da the detective made her. Maybe. Even when she was nine, I never fooled myself I had the measure of her” (7).
This new evidence, in the eyes of Detective Moran, could be a ticket into homicide, the rock star department in the precinct.
And so he marches right into the department, seeking out Detective Conway, the no-bollix officer in charge of the case, hoping to use this in to partner with her.
Since nobody in the testosterone-infused department wants to partner with Conway, she gladly takes in Detective Moran.
Boarded at the Boarding School
And thus unfolds the narrative of The Secret Place. Moran and Conway ride out to the boarding school and get to work, sectioning off a room to interview the eight girls who had access to the hallway the night the new piece of evidence arrived on the secret place.
Soon enough, the detectives realize everyone has a secret to hide, and one of these girls definitely is the killer.
So is The Secret Place any good? Yes and no. French carries talent for the mystery genre. She conceals her clues and offers enough intrigue in the narrative to keep the reader turning pages. But I felt as if the characters were a bit wooden. The tone of dialogue didn’t differentiate much from person to person and it became difficult to hold specific rooting interests in any of the characters. I should note: I haven’t read anything else in French’s “Dublin Murder Squad Series,” in which this book is included. Perhaps having a better sense of her world from previous books could have enhanced my experience.
Ultimately, The Secret Place provides an excellent, mindless read. Just don’t expect much depth.
Verdict: 3 out of 5