The other night I stayed up past midnight reading Tana French’s The Secret Place. This fifth installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series was back to form, mostly, and I couldn’t put it down. Secret Place stars detective Stephen Moran (who we met in Faithful Place), who is working Cold Cases but still hoping he’ll make it on the Murder Squad. His chance comes when Holly Mackey (daughter of Frank, star of Faithful Place as well) comes to visit his office with some evidence about an old murder at her private boarding school. Holly is now 16 and attending Hilda’s, a Catholic girls school where a young man named Chris Harper, from a nearby boys school, was murdered the year before. Holly discovers a picture of Chris with the words “I know who killed him” below it and decides that bringing it to Stephen is the best way to ensure things get solved without getting too crazy. The evidence takes Stephen to Antoinette Conway, a rookie Murder Squad detective who ran the case with her now-retired partner and always regretted not getting a solve. The two attempt to discover who left the note – even if it might have been Holly herself.
I could just keep regurgitating praise for Tana French and her works because I rarely find a series that so consistently delivers like this one. The writing continues to be literary and engrossing, descriptive but not too overwrought. I know I keep mentioning this for these Murder Squad books but I vividly picture the characters and scenes while I read them – and this entry is no exception. I kind of want to cast Domnhall Gleason (forgive any spelling mistakes) as Stephen Moran. Saoirse Ronan as Holly Mackey, though she might have grown too old to play 16 now. Maybe Michael Fassbender as Frank Mackey but someone that hot should feature more prominently. I would make a delightful casting director. Anyhoo. The point is – French writes in a way that really translates to visuals for me.
I think Faithful Place may be the only other entry in the series than this(though perhaps In the Woods also features this a smidge) where the reader is getting two different timelines. French does it in a way that it works fairly well. Almost immediately you realize where and when you are and you’re getting much more background into the main characters’ friendships than you get just from Moran and Conway’s interviews. The main four girls (Holly, Selena, Becca, and Julia) are a tight knit group that seems a little odd to the rest of the school – mainly because they truly do not care what others think of them and don’t seek out the approval of popular kids, boys, teachers, etc. It’s rare to find this in teenagers and it earns them the disgust of one of the most popular girls in school, Joanne Heffernan. Joanne and her crew of followers (Gemma, Alison, and Orla) are the other potential culprits behind the Chris picture, but luckily you don’t really get to know them through any eyes other than the detectives and Holly’s crew. French again lets you get to know the victim a little, which I find refreshing in murder mysteries. Without any familiarity with a character why are you supposed to care who killed them? The ONE thing that I got a little squicky about is that in this book, French introduces a bit of the supernatural. I won’t spoil it for you but it does feel a little strange. It isn’t heavily focused on or anything, so it’s not a huge deal, I just felt like my disbelief got un-suspended for a tiny bit.
I unfortunately have to read some Hillbilly book for book club right now or i’d be on the sixth and most recent entry already. Seriously, if you are into mysteries and also literary fiction, give Tana French a shot. I find it hard to believe anyone would outright hate them even if it’s not their cuppa.