French Takes on Teens

The Secret Place - Tana French

The Secret Place is Tana French’s fifth entry in her fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Like in the previous novels, French selects one member of the squad to build a story around.  This time, French concentrates the action on Stephen Moran, a new officer first introduced in her third book, Faithful Place.  Moran played a pivitol role in that novel, and it provides background information about his methods and character.  The earlier work also establishes his initial encounter with Frank Mackey, an MS detective who also appears here in The Secret Place. Holly, Mackey’s daughter brings an important clue to Moran who is starting out in the Cold Cases department.  It involves an unsolved murder that took place a year ago at her posh private school.  A boy from the school next door was found dead in the woods, but the perpetrator and a possible motive was never discovered.  Moran is ambitious and leaps at the opportunity to bring the new evidence to a Murder Squad member who might vouch for him and advance his career.  Unfortunately, the detective assigned to the case when it was active was Antionette Conway.  She is an outcast in the Murder Squad, and her prickly demeanor and easily offended sensibilities will make working with her a challenge.  Moran and Conway reopen the case and head up to St. Kilda’s school to follow up. Their investigation brings them in contact with two opposing groups of tight-knit girls who definitely know more than they admitted last year.  French juxtaposes the two cliques, exploring teen friendships-some based on dominance/intimidation, and others on blind loyalty and co-dependence. It is a pretty negative and stereotypical portrayal of adolescent girls, and Conway is also not presented as the best example of a well-adjusted female.  There is a different tone to The Secret Place, which is often considered to be the weakest entry in French’s otherwise successful series.  Some elements stretch credulity and the character development is not as extensive as in the others.  Fans accustomed to her gritty realism and deeper psychological themes may find it a bit disappointing, but French’s writing and storytelling are still more impressive than most.  Her next Dublin Murder Squad book, The Trespasser, is French at her best again and not to be missed. Each Murder Squad mystery can stand alone, but the sequential reader benefits from a richer understanding of the characters, their history, and their interactions with other members of the squad. A new stand-alone work, The Witch Elm is due to be released in October 2018.