The Secret Place by Tana French

I was given this novel back in 2015 and have finally got around to reading it – Crazy, I know, but you haven’t seen all the books I have yet to read and if you did, I hope you’d sympathize!

I have heard great things about Tana French and she’s very highly respected in Ireland, so I picked up this large book and looked forward to some escapism.

The novel is written predominantly from the perspective of Stephen Moran, an ambitious detective who currently works cold cases, but would like to work in the murder squad.  Later the narrative switches to the perspective of three different female students at a prestigious all girls boarding school.

One of these students brings Detective Moran a note which was pinned to a noticeboard in the school called ‘The Secret Place,’ where the students can anonymously post notes to get things off their chest.   The note simply says, ‘I know who killed him.’

Cue Moran’s opportunity to work with Detective Conway on the unsolved murder of Chris Harper from the neighbouring private and also exclusive boys’ school.

Conway is a brash working-class female detective who has no time for niceties and Moran has to bite his tongue and swallow his pride more than once while trying to build a connection with Conway which proves an almost impossible task.  Watching the relationship between the two detectives develop was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the novel for me.   

The two pay a visit to the exclusive St Kilda’s school to find out who is behind the note. The murder took place a year previously and remains unsolved much to Conway’s frustration.

My issue with this book was that it could have done with a bit more editing.  The action takes place over the course of the day as the two detectives interview all the main players again and again.  Every detail is explained, every emotion described.   The plus side of this is it builds the atmosphere and the tension.  The negative was that I was exhausted by the time they were half way through the interviews.

The real power of this novel lies in the strong characterization of the two rival groups of teenage girls.  The angst, the loyalty and the sheer energy of their friendships are immediately recognizable to any of us who have lived through those teenage years.

The viciousness of the evil Joanne on the one hand is a marked contrast to the love and loyalty Holly’s group have for each other.  The feeling at that age that these are the only people who will ever understand you and you will never be able to live without them, is beautifully portrayed.  

Overall, I did enjoy the book and I would certainly consider reading another Tana French novel.  Maybe just a slightly shorter one next time.