I have not hidden the fact that I am an unashamed Tana French fanboy. It is hard not to gush when it feels that all she does is weave magic in the pages of each novel. Tana French has the uncanny ability to create compelling characters which she methodically dissects and breaks down to their components parts. For my money, Tana French writes the best character novels in the business. After a small misstep, with her previous novel, Broken Harbor, Tana French is back with one her best offerings to date.
In a break from the format of her previous novels, The Secret Place follows the point of view of at least 6 characters with a focus on two major players, Detective Stephan Moran and Holly Mackey, a student a St. Kilda’s boarding school and the daughter of Tana’s most popular character, Frank Mackey.
The story opens with Holly approaching Stephen with a card that indicates that an unknown person knows who killed a young male student on the grounds of the girls boarding school over a year before. Stephen has designs on joining the murder squad and approaches the lead detective and murder squad pariah, Antoinette Conway, with an offer to help.
The novel covers one 24 hour period with extensive use of flashback to the months before the murder. We follow the investigation and the dynamics between two circles of friends at St. Kilda’s boarding school. This novel mixes a police procedural with an excellent coming of age story. As usual, Tana French explores the many concepts of family and power of secrets to create and destroy.
When you pick up a Tana French novel, you are in for the long haul. The pace is leisurely and the route to completion is scenic. The focus of the novel is the characters and how the experience surrounding the crime permanently alter their lives. Personally, I enjoy the slow developing story but this will certainly be a turn off for some readers.
It should be no surprise that I have never been a teenage girl. It is my fervent belief that no man or boy can truly understand the enigma that is the teenage girl. Tana French enters the minds of these mysterious creatures and explores the bonds of friendship, the fights, the meanness and excitement of growing up. She does an excellent job of presenting the often skewed perspective of youth and has written one of the best coming of age stories in recent memory.
If there can be any criticism of French’s writing is that extreme focus on character building is to the detriment of the plot. In The Secret Place, she seems to have taken this criticism to heart and has structured one of the strongest and best developed plots in the series. While she constantly shifts perspective in the book, she essentially tells two stories. The first being the story of the investigation and the relationship and friendship between the investigators and secondly, and more importantly, the story of friendship between Holly Mackey and the three other girls in her clique.
If you have read and liked another other Tana French novel than I guarantee you will love this one. As in most of her novels, this installment can be read as a stand alone. Stephan Moran played a bit part in a previous novel but that plays only a minor role in the plot. You can pick this one up and dive right in.
As far as I am concerned, if you haven’t read a Tana French novel, you are missing out on an excellent reading experience. She takes the crime suspense thriller and police procedural into the realm of literary fiction. She eloquently explores the world in which she has created and unpacks the psychological underpinnings of the decisions and actions of her characters. While the ride may be scenic, the trip is beautiful and well worth your time.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 2
The book deals with teenagers. Sex takes high priority in their thought process. That said, there is nothing graphic and all sexual content is relatively innocent. The content is generally the use of sexual terms and discussion of body parts.
Language – 3
Tana French writes with the slang and cadence of her native Ireland. There may well be terms used that are considered adult language in Ireland but completely lost on me. There was moderate use of mild adult language and low to moderate use of the f-word.
Violence – 1.5
The focus of the investigation is a violent crime. That said, this is only in the background and there is very little violent content in the story.