By Tana French. Dublin Murder Squad #5. Grade: A
Review by Shefali Azad
“An absolutely mesmerizing read. . . . Tana French is simply this: a truly great writer.” —Gillian Flynn
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to join Dublin’s Murder Squad when sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey arrives in his office with a photo of a popular boy whose body was found at a girls’ boarding school a year earlier. The photo had been posted at “The Secret Place,” the school’s anonymous gossip board, and the caption says “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.” Stephen joins with Detective Antoinette Conway to reopen the case—beneath the watchful eye of Holly’s father, fellow detective Frank Mackey. With the clues leading back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends, to their rival clique, and to the tangle of relationships that bound them all to the murdered boy, the private underworld of teenage girls turns out to be more mysterious and more dangerous than the detectives imagined.
The Secret Place is Tana French’s latest addition to her Dublin Murder Squad series (#5, although each can also serve as a standalone book). The story follows Stephen Moran, a young detective trying to make it to the Murder Squad when a teenage girl brings him a cryptic new clue to a year old unsolved murder at a boarding school.
Tana French delves into the world of teenage girls, and in what has come to be her signature style, draws out the beautiful, the brutal, the poignant of everyday situations. Her words flow with ease, loaded conversations, metaphors that uncoil gracefully or tumble forcefully into a sensory assault. The narrative begins simply but with sinister undertones, an iceberg-like quality of a hugely menacing plot lurking just below. The characters are complex and flawed, you feel their pain, you scorn or sympathise with them, but never fail to appreciate that they are each uniquely human.
The layout is a deviation from her normal style — the narrative shifts back and forth between Moran in the present and boarding school events a year ago. There are elements of mysticism that cannot finally be explained by hard cold logic. A tad disappointing in a murder mystery, especially from an author whose previous books excel at explaining what appear to be illogical situations.
However, that being said, the thrill of the narrative overpowers, in a sense, the need to resolve the murder. You feel yourself drawn into this world, both fascinated and repelled by it. You find yourself hoping Moran solves his case but also wanting him to obey the warning bells in your mind to bolt far, far away from this deadly place of deep secrets. And when the story concludes, like many of her novels, it hits so hard at so many lives that you find yourself choking back a wistfulness for that simpler time when the murder wasn’t yet solved.