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Friday, November 14, 2014

It's No Secret, French Mesmerizes Me—Every Time

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For most of his 32 years, police detective Stephen Moran has been trying to rise above his "working class Dub" background.  Earning a spot on the Dublin Murder Squad would help his efforts immensely.  If only breaking into the old boys' club were that easy; Stephen might as well be wishing for a seat on the next shuttle to the moon.  In all likelihood, he'll be stuck investigating cold cases from now until forever.

Then, 16-year-old Holly Mackey walks into the police station with a tip she's only willing to share with Stephen.  Knowing this could be the golden ticket that gets him on his dream squad, he hears her out.  What he discovers is chilling.  Holly has brought him a card plucked from a bulletin board, where she and her classmates at St. Kilda's are encouraged to anonymously post their most tantalizing secrets.  The message on the card reads:  I know who killed him.  Him being Chris Harper, a 16-year-old student at a boy's school near St. Kilda's, whose head was bashed in last year.  With the crime still unsolved, Stephen smells a big opportunity to prove his worth—not just to his derisive colleagues, but also to Holly Mackey, who, in all her young innocence, believes him capable of sniffing out a murderer.  

With the help of tough, caustic Detective Antoinette Conway, Stephen hightails it to St. Kilda's to begin his investigation.  The posh boarding school in Dublin's quiet suburbs looks as benign as a sleeping kitten, but it soon becomes clear that dangerous secrets are hiding behind its gentle facade.  Unfortunately for Stephen, the biggest ones circle back to Holly and her small group of close-knit friends.  With the school's headmistress breathing down his neck, an irate Frank Mackey (Holly's father, the star of Faithful Place) watching his every move, and a gaggle of flirtatious, but reticent girls to crack, Stephen's beginning to feel as if he's in way, way over his head.  Who killed Chris Harper?  The frustrated detective is determined to find out.  Even if it means putting Holly Mackey—the girl who trusted him enough to come to him with evidence of a killer on her school campus—behind bars.

As much as I love murder mysteries set in boarding schools, I admit, the premise of The Secret Place, the newest in the Dublin Murder Squad series, does sound a little generic.  But, consider this: Tana French wrote it.  As far as mystery writers go, I've never found her equal (despite repeated Google searches for authors like Tana French) in clever plotting, intriguing characters, and tight, magnetizing prose.  She one-ups herself in The Secret Place, though, because she gives her detectives only one day to solve the puzzling crime at the center of the novel.  Given the tight timeline, you might expect a similarly narrow reading experience.  Not so.  French is skilled enough to not only create multi-layered characters, but to allow us time to know and understand them, even within the framework of a fast-paced murder investigation.  She's that good.  Her books always mesmerize me—this was no exception.  I could do without French's ever-present potty-mouth and the fact that she only writes one book every two years, but other than that, no complaints.  She's a gem.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Dublin Murder Squad series [In the Woods; The Likeness; Faithful Place; and Broken Harbour])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, sexual innuendo/content, violence, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Secret Place from the generous folks at NetGalley.  Thank you!


  1. This has been on my TBR since I first heard about it and it sounds like a great read! I read a lot of cozies but am looking for some grittier stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    1. This will definitely be grittier! I don't usually go for gritty, but I just can't get enough of French's writing.

  2. Ooh, I've loved mysteries ever since I was a kid! Mary Stewart, Daphne duMaurier, Agathie Christie, etc. I've never heard of Tana French - must check her out!

    1. Her books are all really good, but definitely R-rated reads. I should check out more classic mysteries -- I've read AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, but nothing else by Christie and nothing at all by Stewart or duMaurier.

  3. I'm a huge Tana French fan too and have loved all of her books. I liked this one, but not quite as much as I liked her earlier ones, can't say exactly why.,

    1. I'm still trying to decide if I liked this one more or less than her others. This one stands out because of the quick time frame, even if the premise isn't as original as those of her other books.

  4. You know, I've never read this author? I'm tempted to try her just to see what her writing is like, although I must admit the R rating deters me greatly.

    1. I really, really like French's writing, but she does have a huge potty mouth. She loves the F-word and uses it constantly. I don't usually read books with that much profanity, but I make an exception for French. You might not feel the same, though :(


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