This is the fourth or fifth book by Tana French featuring one or more members of the Dublin Murder Squad. There is a lot to like about her series: she gives us a contemporary and interesting Dublin, the stories are usually imaginiative, and there’s a tiny touch of mysticism here and there. I like the fact that each book is written from the perspective of a different detective, but familiar characters from past books make appearances as well. Like her previous books, I found myself diving into The Secret Place pretty quickly.
The story begins in a girl’s boarding school, someone posted a photo of a boy who was murdered a year ago and a note claiming that the writer knows who the murderer is. Holly, the student who found the note talks to Detective Stephen Moran, whom she knows, because her father is detective Frank Mackey and she’s interacted with Moran before (see Faithful Place). Moran’s ambition is to be part of the murder squad and he seizes the opportunity to work with Antoinette Conway to solve the murder.
The narrative is split between flashbacks going back one year before the murder, focusing on the lives of two groups of girls at the school. The other narrative is the story of the detectives trying to solve the murder primarily by interviewing the girls. This school is packed with all the teenage cliches, a bitchy clique, the weird/cool girl clique, skeezy boys from the boys school nearby and a sprinkling of horrible parents and clueless school administrators. Holly is smart, sullen, loyal to her friends, typical teenage girl hero. The girls of the bitchy clique are so one-dimensionally bad, I felt they had been lifted straight out of a movie like Mean Girls.
The detectives are also more cliche than usual: Moran is ambitious and trying hard to prove he belongs in the Murder Squad. Conway is the über-bitch loner female detective, unloved by all. Frank Mackey shows up in this book as a protective parent and bests them both. The interaction among these three is more interesting than the mystery itself, and it left me wanting more backstory about Conway and Moran, and less of the mystery itself. The book is written well enough that I consumed it quickly and willingly, but in the end it wasn’t as satisfying a meal as I had hoped.