Author: Tana French
Rating: 4 stars
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
It is amazing to me that a year ago I didn’t know who Tana French was. And yet. The first time I heard of Tana French was opening up my Secret Santa package from The Broke and the Bookish. A fellow book blogger (who’s name I have shamefully forgotten) gave me The Likeness, which I looked at, shrugged, and stuffed on my TBR shelf to get to whenever. BAD CHOICE. The Likeness, when I finally got around to it, was a book that completely astonished me, and I devoured it, and then every other book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Now that I’ve read The Secret Place, French’s latest, I am almost bereft. I’m all caught up until she writes more. What am I supposed to do now?
The Secret Place focuses on Detective Stephen Moran, last seen in Faithful Place. He made a career mistake, then, but he’s ambitious and patient, and is biding his time in Cold Cases until he can get onto the Murder Squad. When Holly Mackey approaches him with evidence regarding the year-old murder of a teenage boy, he sees his in.
All of the Murder Squad novels are variations on a theme, but this one was a departure in a few ways. Up until this book, French has only written in the first person, but about half of The Secret Place is given to a close third-person, present tense POV that alternates around Holly’s group of friends. At the sentence level, French’s writing is as lush and gorgeous as ever, but I have to say that I kind of missed the first person. I didn’t feel as close to Stephen as I did to any of French’s other protagonists. On the one hand, I don’t need everyone to have some monumentally tortured back-story or skeletons in the closet, but on the other, Stephen’s main characteristics seemed to be: a) he’s ambitious and b) he has no close friends. That’s it. He was a sketch of a person that I kept waiting to get filled in, and he never really did.
Another interesting choice is that the main, present-day action took place over a single day. The card shows up in the morning, the case is cracked by midnight. It led to the plot feeling really tense and tight, which I loved, but it was also exhausting.
Psychologically, the viciousness and cliquishness of teen girls was not something I was particularly clamoring to read about.”If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that teenage girls make Moriarity look like a babe in the woods,” Stephen says on pg 317, and that could sum up the whole novel in one line. But I’ve been there, and I had no need to go there again. It was interesting, and I think French executed the teen girls and all their tangled motivations beautifully, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book I would have picked up if it was written by anyone else.
There was one element of the book that left me with a big old huh? and almost threw me completely out of the story. It’s massively spoilery, so all I’ll say is I probably would have been ok with it in literally any other book, but in my crime fiction: get out. I’m glad I got past it in the end, though.
If you’ve never read Tana French, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one. Her books don’t absolutely have to be read in order, I didn’t read them that way, but I don’t think this is the best example of what she can do. Still, even not-her-best Tana French is better than almost any other writer I can think of. I can’t wait to find out what comes next.