The Secret Place is the fifth book in Tana French’s murder squad series and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Following young Stephen Moran, who last made an appearance in Faithful Place and is now working cold cases, the novel starts off with a seemingly innocent picture on an index card found by Holly Mackey on a board her school calls The Secret Place. Wanting to move on from cold cases and into the murder squad, Stephen takes the card of Chris Harper, murdered on the grounds between St. Kilda’s and Colm’s, both boarding schools, to Antoinette Conway. Conway has made herself into an almost larger than life ballbuster to survive and thrive in the male dominated murder squad.
Pairing up, both for their own reasons, the two set out card in hand to delve into the lives of teenage boarding school girls, and it’s terrifying. This is mean girls gone bad. Being removed from the outside world, these girls are secluded and totally reliant on each other creating an it’s them against the world mentality. Masterfully, Tana French reveals the layers and layers of vulnerability, cruelty self-preservation, loyalty, and burgeoning sexuality that in this school is akin to a social currency.
There are four girls at the heart of the mystery of who killed Chris Harper and watching them ebb and sway together, like swallows in the sky trying to stay together but ultimately breaking apart, is breathtaking. This book is so much more than a mystery/thriller. In it’s own way it’s a coming of age novel. It’s about becoming aware that everything in life is fleeting. Nothing, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it in your clenched fists, will remain static forever.
The most poignant moment in the novel for me is when Holly’s mother comes home after meeting an old friend from her St.Kilda days and describes how they haven’t been in contact for years no matter how close they were and is not sure after this meeting if they should be in contact. Their lives have taken such different paths and the only thing that connects them is their past. Holly sees, in one moment of true clarity, how everything will change. The four friends will separate because they are all individuals and not the unit they have been for so long. And perhaps it’s this moment that is the real catalyst of the book, creating the desire to throw the card of Chris Harper into the mix.
Final rating: 4.5/5
Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015!