A boy is found murdered on the grounds of a girl's school. One year later, Holly Mackey drops a photograph into the lap of Stephen Moran, a Cold Case cop in Dublin, indicating someone at St. Kilda's knows who the killer was. He takes the photograph to the Murder Squad and gets paired with Detective Conway. Will this be Moran's big chance at getting on the Murder Squad or will the case tear him apart?
The Secret Place is Tana French's fifth entry in the Dublin Murder Squad books and the last to date. It's also kind of a step back after the events of Broken Harbour. I shall explain eventually.
The Secret Place, while a murder mystery at first glance, is an exploration of the politics of being a teenage girl. Tana French mines deep into Megan Abbott territory in this one. Two groups of girls take center stage in Conway and Moran's investigation. About half of them are actually interesting.
Julia and Joanne, the two ringleaders, were the most interesting characters in the book, not surprising since I found teenage girls pretty alien back when I was a teen. From their cliques to their opposing leadership styles, they painted a vivid picture of what life as a teenage girl must be like. Most of the other girls seemed like set dressing for most of the story.
The relationship between Conway and Moran was very well done and I enjoyed it immensely when Frank Mackey was added to the mix in the later chapters. Being something of a loner, I empathized with Stephen a lot of the time. I felt for Conway, too, gunning for her chance to finally prove herself to the guys on the Murder Squad.
While Tana French was at the top of her game in a technical sense in this outing, I did not like The Secret Place as much as its fore-bearers. For one thing, I disliked the shifting viewpoints, a departure from her previous outings. I understand what she was going for but it felt a little lazy in comparison to previous books. I liked how things unfolded but I would have preferred a different method.
My much bigger gripe was with the supernatural angle introduced around the 35% mark. Combining genres is something I normally enjoy, like mixing chocolate and peanut butter. In this case, it was more like finding a pubic hair in your omelet. It was completely unnecessary and brought me out of the story every time it was referenced.
I was pretty surprised at the big reveal, which was not actually a great shock since Tana French clearly has had my number since In the Woods. Like all of French's books, I was a little sad when the story was over, doubly sad in this case since I'm out of Tana French books. While it wasn't my favorite of hers, Tana French writes one hell of a book. Four out of five stars.