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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place     

I could not resist starting this one as soon as I received it from NetGalley.  Then I couldn't put it down.  Enthralled from the very beginning (not that unusual, since this is Tana French), I loved the language, the atmosphere, the sense of being on the edge of something with disaster on the other side, the way the book moved from character to character and present to past and back again--easily, with a finesse that avoids confusion.  The shifts alternate between the unfolding involvement of Detective Stephen Moran and the events that led up to the unsolved murder of a young man on the grounds of the exclusive St. Kilda's private school.

When Holly Mackey brings Detective Stephen Moran a photo of Chris Harper with the words:  "I know who killed him" pasted on it, Moran believes this may be his chance of getting a spot on the Murder Squad.  He gets permission to take it to the Detective who headed the as yet unsolved case. 

 Detective Antoinette Conway is not popular with the lads in the Murder Squad and agrees to let Moran accompany her to the school, but lets him know right away that she can kick him off at any time.  Moran has the advantage of already knowing Holly from when she was a witness when she was ten, but that association cuts both ways because Detective Frank Mackey is her father, and Conway is leery of his relationship with Mackey and believes Moran has a soft spot for Holly.  

Moran is determined to get along with the touchy Conway.  If he can, and if they can solve Chris Harper's murder, his dream of a place on the Murder Squad may actually happen.  Although both detectives come from hard-scrabble backgrounds, Conway resents the rich and privileged while Moran longs for those privileges.  He is impressed with the beauty of St. Kilda's; Conway is offended by it.

Nevertheless, the two eventually find they work well together, and Moran's ability to adapt himself to the people he interviews proves helpful to Conway, whose manner is much more aggressive.  

Dense with detail, layer on layer of possibilities--the plot unwinds slowly over the course of a single day as Moran and Conway interview the students, adding gradually to their information and keeping them just off balance with changing perspectives.  

About 1/3 of the way in, something is revealed that changes the outlook.  I'm not going to reveal what it is, but if you read it, you might be a bit taken aback.  I'm still not sure about this section because it sort of ...dissipates;  its purpose may be connected to something that occurs near the end, but it still puzzles me.

And about 3/4 of the way through, the tension ratchets up to the point, that I'd have to read a little, realize I was skimming, and have to go back and read again--or put it down and walk away.  No matter how French cranks up your emotions, you can't afford to go too fast looking for a release of tension.  The increase in tension has nothing to do with violence; it has to do with concern for the characters.

French is a master at characterization and suspense, and The Secret Place kept me enthralled.  Recommended!

I had missed Broken Harbor for some reason, and as soon as I finished The Secret Place, I ordered and read Broken Harbor.  Which, of course, was also excellent!  Will review soon.

NetGalley/Penguin Group/Viking

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Sept. 2, 2014.  Print length:  464 pages.


  1. I love her books! They're a must-read for all thrillers fans. I'm still waiting for its release day though, and will have to wait another more for the delivery, hmph!

  2. What a lovely review! I definitely need to read this book.

  3. Melody - She really is a must read. I've loved every one of her books--well, Faithful Place, not as much, but all the others!

    Irene - Have you read any of her other novels? I think she is definitely an author you'd like!

  4. I read one or maybe two of Tana French's books, and I just -- ugh, I don't know! It makes me sad that everyone loves Tana French so much, and I never love her that same way. :( But still, maybe I should give her another try.

  5. Jenny - I love the way I get caught up in French's books, but I know what you mean about wishing you could love books that other people love. Two authors that everyone else loves, but I don't--Donna Tartt and Audrey Niffenegger.

  6. I have missed her last two books too. I keep noticing them on the library shelf and thinking that I really need to check them out!

    Donna Tartt is a little strange to me. I have read both The Secret History and The Little Friend. The latter was frustrating. Have you read Paradise Hotel by Martha Grimes? The Little Friend reminded me of those books - enigmatic I guess is the word. I've tried to read The Goldfinch but I just can't get into it right now, although I bought it for my Kindle. I liked The Time Traveler's Wife okay but Niffenegger's later book, A Fearful Symmetry, not so much.

  7. I found my missing copy of Broken Harbor the other day and now it's sitting on top of my shelf. I really need to read my by Tana French. Every time I read a review of one of her books I remember how much I loved her first one.

  8. Deb - I really liked both The Secret Place and Broken Harbor--and they were quite different.

    Tart doesn't write characters I enjoy reading about. Loved the plot of TSH, but hated the characters. Nieffenegger's TTTW was an OK read for me, although everyone else loved it. But A Fearsome Symmetry just didn't work at all for me.

    Wendy - Her books are so set in present and so eery at the same time. The one I liked least was Faithful Place, loved all the others.

  9. I read and loved her first book a number of years ago and keep meaning to pick her up again. For some reason I tell myself I am waiting for some sort of special occasion like a trip or vacation or something. I should really stop waiting!

  10. Stefanie - Maybe you could take a staycation and sit in your lovely garden! Although maybe French is more suited to less cheerful location...