Detective Stephan Moran has an unusual visitor. Holly Mackey, daughter of another cop Frank Mackey seeks him with an intriguing piece of information. It leads Stephan to one-year-old murder of Chris Harper. Chris’s dead body was found on the grounds of St. Kilda, an exclusive boarding school for girls. Stephan finds himself tangled in a web of lies, secrets and jealousy.
Let me confess first. I am an unabashed fan of Tana French’s books. Every word oozing out of her pen is to be revered. I will give anything to write like her just for one day. All her books are brilliant and The Secret Place is no exception.
Her usual trademarks are there again in The Secret Place and yet it is as different from her other novels as it can be. Normally, a minor character from a previous novel is the narrator in the next, in this case young, rookie detective Stephan Moran who played second fiddle to smart and cunning Frank Mackey in Faithful Place. Frank’s daughter Holly plays pivotal role and Frank himself is present in a solid cameo.
Holly who was a little girl in Faithful Place is a teenager now, boarding at St. Kilda, an exclusive girls’ school. Holly comes seeking Stephan because she has found a deadly confession. On a notice board dubbed ‘The Secret Place’ in her school, someone has stuck a card announcing that she knows who killed Chris Harper. Chris, another boarder at nearby boys’ school was killed more than a year ago, his dead body found on the grounds of the girls’ school. Despite massive hunt, police have failed to turn up a single suspect. Stephan, stuck in cold cases, sees his chance and seeks out Detective Antoinette Conway, lead detective on the case.
Though her books are very good police procedural, what sets them apart is French’s ability to delve into the psyche of her characters, to make them alive. They are to be liked, hated, pitied, jeered and cheered at the same time. This coupled with her almost lyrical style makes a deadly concoction that blows away the reader. We are so embroiled in the characters, their past and the events that shaped the character’s personality and led to the inevitable murder that finding out ‘WHO’ becomes secondary. It’s the ‘WHY’ that becomes the focus of the reader.
The Secret Place happens in one day but the taut writing spreads it over 500 pages. There is the unlikely pair of Detective Conway and Stephan Moran feeling their way around each other, their relationship fraught with initial distrust which slowly turns to acceptance and then to trust. They zero in on two groups of girls. Both groups look normal, Holly is part of one. But as Conway and Moran start interviewing them each of the eight girls comes out as a mystery in herself. Both groups are made of girls who are like chalk and cheese in character, yet filled with similar teenage feelings – Love, hate, jealousy, growing insecurities for stepping out in the world while longing to be firmly wedged in the bond of friends. Moran and Conway learn once again that none of these girls can be trusted, each holding back something for reasons of her own.
If you are a fan of this series like me, you will probably guess the killer and the girl who put up the ‘I Know Who Killed Chris Harper’ card much earlier. It is hardly the point in Tana French’s books. The real thrill is in knowing the past that shaped her characters.
The hint of supernatural was the only sore point for me. Nevertheless, The Secret Place is another triumph of Tana French’s mesmerising writing.
If you are new to this series, I suggest you start chronologically even though each is a standout novel. My order of favourites is The Likeness, In The Woods, Faithful Place, The Secret Place and Broken Harbour.
P.S. I would love to read Holly’s story someday and know what happened to Cassie Maddox after The Likeness.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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