Top positive review
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Long, deep and not your standard crime novel
on 10 May 2015
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.