The Secret Place by Tana French *****

8 August 2019 | ,

Reading dates: 22 June – 07 August 2019

“If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods.”

Opinion is divided on Tana French’s fifth Dublin Squad book. She has generally been on an upward trajectory from her debut novel but readers tend to find this one too long and too unbelievable. I loved it. The premise is so perfect for the kinds of mysteries I adore. It takes place in a boarding school with two sets of four girls, which have faint echoes of my favourite book ever, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A boy turns up murdered on the girls’ school grounds. These girls are excellent at keeping secrets and lying for their friendships. While I am sure girls like that are a nightmare to parent, they make good characters. The boarding school setting is a clever high concept idea and the quirk of the secret place – a board where girls can anonymously post cards with what is on their mind – rather believable. French writes impeccably and some readers found teen-speak annoying (it is meant to be) but I would have found its lack a lot more irritating. The structure alternates investigative chapters, with chapters from the perspectives of the girls before the murder. The plotting and the pace are impeccable. The only thing on the back of my mind is the supernatural elements, which remain unexplained; but then again these are young, pliable minds, and we need something to enter their world too. The detectives (Stephen Moran, a bit of a non-entity, and Conway, a very interesting new character who comes back in the next novel) are ok, but absolutely outstaged by the eight girls. Thankfully, they get all the limelight.

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