The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret PlaceThe Secret Place by Tana French
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

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

Tana French takes on the world of teenage girls. This book was 100% worth waiting for and, though I’ve loved all of French’s mysteries, I think this could actually be my favourite. It was just so wonderful to get back into a book full of great characterisation, intricate relationships, clever red herrings and a writing style that so wholly fits my tastes. French writes the only kind of lengthy, descriptive books I can get fully absorbed into – because her description is so engaging and interesting that I just want more, more more. Nearly 500 pages and I didn’t want it to end.

Maybe the reason I read so much YA is because I find teenage girls some of the most interesting, scary, complicated, ridiculous, obsessive and crazy of characters. With French’s trademark well-developed characterisation that delves deep into the minds of nearly everyone the novel introduces us to, the insane world of teenage girls becomes an intense bubble of hormones and insecurities mixed in with a spot of murder. Could an angel-faced, upper middle class girl of 16 really murder someone in cold blood? It won’t take you long to be convinced.

Teen girl politics fascinates me. The strength and/or fragility of friendship ties, the capacity for evil and bitchiness, the unspoken rules that have to be learned. If you think this book can’t be frightening, then you had a better time in high school than I did. French makes school even more creepy and terrifying, and breaks it up with her usual life insights that I always enjoy reading.

As always, this book is as much about the detectives as it is about the suspects and the crime. When Holly Mackey brings a photo to Detective Stephen Moran, he sees an opportunity to get out of Cold Cases and play with the big guys over at Murder. The photo – of a murdered boy with the words “I know who killed him” written on it – could change everything. Teaming up with Detective Antoinette Conway over in Murder, Moran heads into the world of private school girls and attempts to uncover the truth about what really happened to Chris Harper. It soon becomes apparent that more than one girl has skeletons in her closet.

Moran and Conway work so good together. They both come from poor backgrounds and have worked their way up, but Moran longs for the flawless beauty of the wealthy, whereas Conway resents it. They bicker and they bond. The relationship between them is crafted excellently and I’d love to see them working together in future books – though, knowing French, that seems unlikely.

“Things don’t make sense, when you’re that age; you don’t make sense.”

I’ve always said that the best kind of mysteries are those where the reveals don’t matter so much. Those where the story and characters are fascinating enough to carry the book regardless of whodunnit. Tana French ALWAYS writes those kind of books, IMO. This latest addition is as wonderful as always and is a really great look at the bittersweetness of youth, friendship and growing up. And it has a captivating cast of crazy teen girls (as if there’s any other type). French does have the odd habit of introducing a few things that never get solved; red herrings some might say, frustrating others will tell you, but I like it. I like the constant mystery of not knowing whether this is an important clue for the murder or just another crazy part of life. Now I just need her to write more.

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