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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfections
Tana French has proved to be one of those authors who can bring us into an otherwise unknown world. In this novel we visit the classes, those who have and those who do not have as much. A girl's school, St. Kilda, convent, where the adolescent slips into the beginnings of adulthood. In these walls and grasses and gardens lay secrets and at times other worldly sightings...
Published 10 months ago by prisrob

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way too long
St Kilda's, a girls' boarding school, run by nuns, is the setting for this novel. A year previously a popular boy from the neighbouring St Colm's has been found dead in the grounds of St Kilda's; the culprit has not been found. Enter Mr Plod in the shape of Stephen Moran, a young detective anxious to leave Cold Cases, so when he's handed a clue by one of the students...
Published 3 months ago by Jood


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way too long, 27 April 2015
By 
Jood (UK) - See all my reviews
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St Kilda's, a girls' boarding school, run by nuns, is the setting for this novel. A year previously a popular boy from the neighbouring St Colm's has been found dead in the grounds of St Kilda's; the culprit has not been found. Enter Mr Plod in the shape of Stephen Moran, a young detective anxious to leave Cold Cases, so when he's handed a clue by one of the students from St Kilda's he grabs the opportunity with both hands, heading off to Murder where he meets one Antoinette Conway. Together they dash off to St Kilda's. These are the bare bones of the book.

The book is written in the popular back and forth way – alternating chapters of past and present which works quite well. From no suspects at all, suddenly there are eight – two rival gangs of four girls each, all from well-heeled, well-connected families. The characterisation of the girls is quite believable, however they all come across as selfish, shallow, and quite unlikeable; rivalry, jealousy, cloying friendship, bitchiness, mass hysteria – it's all there. The whole paranormal thing was a bit of a stretch and just irrelevant padding as far as I'm concerned. The boys are flat, lifeless one-dimensional creatures who hang around the periphery being loutish, and, predictably, the dead boy, gorgeous, popular is not all he seemed.

What I found totally unbelievable is the notion that the “present” all takes place within a day. I just can't see it – interviewing and re-interviewing eight teenage girls, searching their rooms, the school grounds, the library, all in a day? Was this the author's intention, or did she just not realise that's the way it turned out? I also found the mobile phones thing really confusing – maybe younger readers with more knowledge than I would be able to follow it.

Disappointingly, there is nothing new in this novel; it's light, quite entertaining, flimsy but far too long.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfections, 4 Sept. 2014
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Secret Place (Hardcover)
Tana French has proved to be one of those authors who can bring us into an otherwise unknown world. In this novel we visit the classes, those who have and those who do not have as much. A girl's school, St. Kilda, convent, where the adolescent slips into the beginnings of adulthood. In these walls and grasses and gardens lay secrets and at times other worldly sightings. It is at once a mystery,but also a time of facing truths.

Detective Stephan Moran of the Cold Case Squad receives a visit from a young woman, Holly MacKay. She was once a witness to an inquiry and Moran seemed to be the person she could relate to. She brought with her a clue to a murder that had occurred twelve months past. Moran knew this might be his ticket to the Murder Squad, so he played it to the hilt. He brings the information to the Murder Squad and Detective Antoinette Conway. She is a hard nose woman who has to put up with the bullying and suggestive comments of her call male colleagues. But, she knows her stuff, realizes Moran may be helpful in obtaining info from the young women at St. Kilda's.

The story alternates between the current investigation and events from the year leading up to the murder, interspersed with the lives of several young women at the school. This is well done, we now have two sides of the perception, and two sides of what really went down. The writing is pure Tana French, perceptive, intelligent, does not leave anyone with the answers. You must squirm and think through for the clues to make sense.

Not for a million dollars would I want to revisit adolescence, but we do it here. The sweet press and light of the early years is replaced with the uncertainty and hormone release of the mid teens. Learning what can be done, what must be done, and the restrictions of life with the nuns.

Recommended. prisrob 09-04-14
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long, deep and not your standard crime novel, 10 May 2015
This review is from: The Secret Place (Paperback)
I bought this on a whim, never having read anything by Tana French before- having just finished, I'm trying to choose which of her books to read next and hoping it will be equally excellent.

The events of the book take place almost entirely in and around an Irish private all-girls boarding school. A year after a boy from the nearby boys' school is found murdered on the grounds and with the investigation gone cold, detective Stephen Moran receives a photo of the victim found on the school's message board with the words "I know who killed him". Seizing his chance to work a murder case along with distinctly cold new boss Antoinette Conway, they head to the school with one day to find his killer.

Interspersed with their investigation is the story of the devoted and doomed friendship of four teenage girls, told over the year leading up to the murder, slowly setting out the secrets, lies, rivalries and love stories needing to be untangled to solve the case.
This is a long book of two halves- one a very traditional crime novel, with a series of interviews, re-interviews, clues and red-herrings as the detectives slowly uncover the truth behind the killing. The other side is quite a dark tale of the intense friendship, love and hate for a group of teenagers in essentially their own world, which is unstoppably coming to end. There are unexpectedly touches of the supernatural, which may not be to everyone's taste, but rather than a ghost story, French seems to me to depict the feelings of being young and truly believing in something beyond the physical world, that you and you alone can control and controls you- it is left to the reader to decide whether the mysticism and occult are coincidences and the shared imaginings of the young, or something true and beyond understanding that growing up causes us to lose and forget.

The representation of the girls themselves in the book will also not be to everyone's tastes- French makes stylistic choices to present the teenager mindset, with liberal pepperings of "OhMyGod"s, girlish sniggers and near-total condescension towards and alienation from every adult character. A reader's own memories of being a teenager, together with experiences of being around them today, will determine whether they find this a simplistic type-casting of the stereotypical teenage girl or an attempt to accurately depict the trauma, power and cynicism of the teenage brain. I think French does well on the whole to present a group of complex and believable cast of characters. While, yes, many of them are unsympathetic and unlikeable on the surface, I found as the book progresses the motivations, hopes and fears develop them and provide a thought provoking consideration of the teenage experience and what we gain, and lose, through becoming adults.

For those looking for a summer 'by the beach' easy read, or a traditional whodunnit, you may be disappointed by the Secret Place- for those wanting a crime novel which is not just a 'paint-by-numbers' read from crime to case closed, who want exploration of the events and motives of all involved in what is, ultimately, a pointless and preventable murder from our objective perspective, yet in this world French builds seems fated and unavoidable, I would fully recommend you read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Life's too short..., 27 May 2015
This review is from: The Secret Place (Hardcover)
I should know by now not to be taken in by decent cover reviews, but I still succumb to snap decisions. In this case the use of the phrase "literary fiction" was my downfall - I was expecting something more on a par with Benjamin Black but this is nothing like in that league. Also the comparison to Donna Tartt's Secret History which I soon discovered is only in the general setting of the plot and not in the level of writing ability.
I got about 60 or so pages in before becoming exasperated with the ham-fisted characterisation, particularly of Antoinette Conway - clichéd hard-nosed, maverick, no-one-likes-me-but-I-don't-care cop might work in the States but here it's just insultingly laughable. Am I really meant to swallow that a senior police detective would go around with a chip on their shoulder, spurting vitriol at all and sundry and keep their job?
Life's too short to bother finishing guff like this when there's plenty of decent books out there waiting.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great atmosphere but much too long....., 21 Oct. 2014
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Secret Place (Hardcover)
16 year old Chris Harper was found dead in the grounds of a St Kilda’s, a prestigious girls’ school. The crime was unsolved but a year later a note saying “I know who killed him” is found by Holly Mackey on the school notice board and taken to Detective Stephen Moran. She was a witness in an earlier case so knows him and trusts him. Moran sees this as his big chance to get out of Cold Cases and onto the Murder Squad.

The Secret Place takes place over a single day with alternate chapters telling the story of from the girls’ point of view leading up to the murder.

Tana French is good on atmosphere and captures the claustrophobia and intensity of privileged teenage girls living together. She is also good on class attitudes. Moran and his senior officer Antoinette Conway are both from working class backgrounds and are uncomfortable working in an expensive school. However the head teacher is even more uncomfortable having them around. The girls are strongly portrayed – their loyalties, jealousies, cattiness and judgement of others. She is particularly good on the way the girls vie with one another for status and how cruel they can be to each other.

I can accept the way in which some girls thought they saw the ghost of Chris. This fits in with the hysteria of the young girls. The other supernatural touches seemed very out of place and struck a jarring note. My main problem with the book was that it was much too long. It could have been drastically shortened without losing any of the plot or atmosphere. By the end I was losing patience…….
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 23 July 2014
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Secret Place (Hardcover)
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This is another quite brilliant book from Tana French. It has a crime as the plot driver, but it is really a novel of character, of how groups behave and of the experience of adolescence.

The story is told in two intercut narratives. In the present day, the investigation of the death of a boy in the grounds of a girls' school in Dublin a year ago is reopened by a possible new lead. This is narrated by a young Detective Constable, Stephen Moran, in an utterly convincing voice, beautifully capturing both the narrator and what he experiences. The other tale is of what actually happened leading up to the murder told in the third person in fantastically evocative prose which is almost poetic at times. It is perfectly structured and paced, the tension and atmosphere is built relentlessly and it held me completely gripped.

What really makes this book so good is Tana French's ability to understand and portray the inner world of her characters and the experience of school and adolescence. The detective narrator and the adolescent schoolgirls at the centre of the investigation are beautifully painted and even minor characters are completely convincing. French has the ability to portray people vividly in just a few penetrating words or a couple of lines of dialogue, like a teenage girl observing the wealthy mother of a schoolmate: "Alison's mum has had a lot of plastic surgery and she wears fake eyelashes the size of hairbrushes. She looks sort of like a person but not really, like someone explained to aliens what a person is and they did their best to make one of their own." This is just a random example; the book is full of clear insight, exposure of false posturing and often great humanity and compassion.

This is a very fine novel as well as a gripping crime mystery. Warmly recommended to anyone who likes a gripping, intelligent read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, poignant and hard to put down, 4 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: The Secret Place (Paperback)
This is a book that stayed in my mind long after I finished it. It is in a league of its own: ostensibly a whodunnit, yet undoubtedly literary fiction, and far more about the bewilderment, magic and occasional catastrophes of growing up than a simple solving of a murder.
Earlier reviewers have complained about the length and the implausibility of events occurring in a single day and, perhaps, in conjunction, these are are flaws. The single day framing device didn't bother me; it is a novel, not a history and the atmosphere is deliberately contrived to be enclosed (in the best tradition of murder mysteries) .
There are flickers of magical realism within it and the quality of the writing, particularly the intensity of teenage girls' relationships, their landscapes and dreams, is beautifully, sometimes achingly well, achieved. French has an ear for the speech patterns of an age group (yes, with all its irritations of jargon and repetition) and juxtaposes this against lyrical, other worldly bursts of emotional clarity and pain. She catches the evolving characters of girls growing from children into adulthood at different speeds and different levels of maturity and she writes believably but without sentimentality of the loyalties of peerr-bonding and young love.
I found this a surprisingly moving book for one in its genre because it is also centrally about the timeless themes love and loss and sacrifice.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detective fiction at its best, 20 July 2014
By 
Mrs. K. A. P. Wright - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Place (Hardcover)
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Tana French’s first detective story was terrific and she has got better with every book. I thought Broken Harbour would be a hard act to follow, but she has succeeded. The Secret Place is superb. It is a long book that unwinds slowly. It is told in two time streams – now, and just over a year ago, the months leading up to Christopher Harper’s murder.

Christopher has been found murdered in the grounds of St Kilda’s, an elite girls’ boarding school. He was a pupil at the neighbouring boys’ boarding school. Extensive police enquiries have led nowhere. A year later, Holly, a pupil at St Kilda’s who had been a witness in a trial five or six years earlier, approaches the policeman who looked after her. She has what appears to be new information. The policeman, Stephen Moran, works in Cold Cases but aspires to the Murder Squad. He takes the information to the lead on the Harper case, Detective Conway, an ambitious newly promoted cop who is ostracised by her colleagues. In parallel we find out what happened a year ago and the progress of the new investigation.

French’s characterisation is superlative. The detectives quickly discover that they should concentrate on eight girls, two groups of girls who loathe each other. The dynamics of the relationships between and within the groups is explored in depth revealing contradictions and ambiguity until slowly the truth comes into view.

Unlike many detective story writers, Tana French does not have her own pet policeman. She has a police force from which her characters are taken. We see the world and all the other characters from her lead policeman’s point of view and this may be very different from what we have seen in previous books. So, we have met Stephen as a bit player in a previous book, Faithfull Place, where we also met Holly and her father, Frank Mackey. Other characters from previous books are also mentioned, but all now seen from Stephen’s point of view. This gives the characterisation extra depth and interest, so much so that I am now re-reading Faithfull Place and The Likeness.

It would be pointless to try to describe the plot in any more detail, because Tana French needed over five hundred pages to do it and she didn’t waste a word.

This is an excellent book. It is a totally absorbing, long and dense book which needs to be read carefully. This is not a book to skim or skip. Read every word. Enjoy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The main reason I found this novel tedious was simply its length, 13 Mar. 2015
By 
G. Anderton - See all my reviews
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Overlong and unengaging.The main reason I found this novel tedious was simply its length, which is way in excess of what's justified by the flimsy story. There's much to make the reader lose patience, too - the endless "um, hello, OMG" way the girls' speech is rendered, the caricatured way some of the characters are presented, and last and worst, a completely redundant and ridiculous theme involving telekinesis. No, really. I did read to the end, but only dogged determination kept me going. This was the first book I had read by this writer, and it will probably be the last.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Not like he was secretly in love with you...".., 31 May 2015
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Place (Paperback)
At 544 pp, this is too long. It is set in Ireland and concerns four girls at a boarding school, Becca, Holly, Julia and Selena – the intelligent grouping, and another four girls whom they refer to as The Daleks. The most objectionable of these is Joanne who thinks the world revolves around her. Basically, we are talking about good girls versus not so good girls.

Frankly I was amazed at what they got up to – girls with rich parents, who mostly come from very good homes who behave very badly, even the ‘good’ girls. The most interesting character is a detective, sent in, after an abortive investigation, to have one more try to determine who killed a boy from the nearby boy’s boarding school. Detective Conway is the detective, and we quickly find out she is not to be trifled with. Unpopular with her fellow detectives because she won’t play the game, objects to their sexist jokes and habits – but she’s been given a good partner who is trying to make his way up the promotion ladder. This is Detective Moran, who proves his worth in this investigation. Basically, it’s bad cop vs good cop, and it’s Moran who cracks the case

There are a lot of things I couldn’t quite get my head around, including a girls’ school that has a notice board for the kids to put up their ‘secrets’ – why would a school allow such a provocative way of letting the girls express themselves? Because the first investigation was a failure there is an unhealthy interest in the murder case and quite a few parents express their worries. Is any child safe in a school where a murder has been committed in the grounds? Some parents whip their kids out straight away, but the majority seem to believe lightning never strikes twice. As a mother myself, my child would have been out of there.

There’s a hugely complex and sometimes exhausting business about how our four girls steal a key that lets them go out at night. In fact, for some strange reason, everything happens at night. The good girls and some of the bad ones are having relationships with some of the boys from the boys’ school. However, long complicated interviews by the police are given practically verbatim – we could have done with some cuts here and there. There are one or two quirks of grammar that were uniquely Irish, and one or two tics, like the “but” that seemed like a kind of punctuation. I have to say though, the characterisation was very good indeed. What I didn’t understand was that although a girl had attacked a boy and killed him, no one seemed to worry about letting her back into the school in the run up to her trial. Still, it was all neatly tied up, apart from those odd lapses of behaviour that will be all too apparent if you can slog your way through the pages to the end. On the whole, I liked it.
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