Tana French is widely feted in the crime-writing world, but I didn’t really get on that well with the previous book I read by her (Broken Harbour) and have subsequently avoided her, despite myriad positive reviews from all directions. So finally I succumbed to The Secret Place and, whaddyaknow, it was great…and I feel suitably foolish for aforementioned avoidance.
The novel is all set in a claustrophobic private girls’ school, with two police officers (Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran) investigating who might have been responsible for the death of a boy from the nearby boys’ school equivalent – a death that has been unexplained for a little while. Until one of the girls wanders into the police station clutching a clue from what is known as ‘the secret place’, a sort of free-for-all noticeboard to share anonymous secrets and feelings.
French is brilliant at the language and cliquey-ness of the two main girl groups, and it has that combination of viciousness and naivety that rings entirely true. She’s also excellent at the gender dynamics at play – both between Moran and Conway, and between the girls and Moran (especially when being interviewed), and between the girls and their doltish male peers.
The tension build beautifully over the course of the day in which the present scenes are set (interspersed by flashbacks) and, bar a bit of misplaced ghost action, it’s wonderfully well executed – I rattled through it in barely any time at all; and am now ready to explore some of her other Dublin books, hoping they are just as good.