Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

August 28, 2014 Book review 12 ★★★★★

If you have a curious bone in your body then surely you want to know who killed him?  And even if you don’t have a curious bone, surely you want to read a book with amazing characters and an intricate plot?  And if you love books, surely you want to read one of the best (if not THE best book) published in 2014?

Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana FrenchThe Secret Place by Tana French
Published by Hachette Books Ireland on 2014-08-28
Genres: Mystery & Detective
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
Source: Edelweiss, Won

The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago. The caption says, 'I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM'. Detective Stephen Moran hasn't seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she's sixteen and she's shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story.

Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys' school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card.

Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get that solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn't want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn't want to hear.

First Line of The Secret Place by Tana French:

“There’s this song that keeps coming on the radio, but Holly can only ever catch bits of it.”

My thoughts on The Secret Place by Tana French:

OK, hands up, I admit it, I’m biased.  Tana French is my favourite author and I had high expectations of this book.  But in a way that meant this book had to work extra hard to impress me.  I expect nothing less of perfection from Tana’s writing based on her previous books.  Well The Secret Place took my expectations and blew them out of the water.  It was everything I had hoped for and more, so much more. It all starts with a note on a notice board in a post boarding school in Dublin.  The board tantalisingly proclaimed:

I Know Who Killed Him

Well the anonymous writer may have known but I sure as hell didn’t.  What followed was a well crafted murder mystery that towards the end had me reading with a pain in my heart.  You form an attachment with the characters and I really didn’t want any of them to have done it.  But there are lots of great crime fiction books out there so you might be wondering what sets this book apart?

First off it’s the writing.  It’s lyrical, my eyes drink in the words greedily but then my brain grips them hard and ponders over them. In a few short phrases Tana builds up a setting and fills it with atmosphere.  It’s all so real, all so visible, it’s hard to believe that it’s not you driving down the grand driveway to the mansion that is now a school, doggedly clinging to a chance to solve a cold case.

But as much as the writing is poetic, it is also desperately real.  The characters are magnificently flawed.  Never over the top or just for drama, just real.  They mirror people I know in real life and at times the thoughts mirror my own.  But Tana’s writing makes you face an honesty that often we don’t allow ourselves to think. The pace of the book is meandering.  Everything is slowly revealed and we get the chance to solve it along with the detectives.  One of my favourite parts was the chemistry between the two detectives (NOT a romance) and how they teased everything out, bounced theories off each other and grimly used all the tricks they had into getting information off the schoolgirls.

Something that took me totally by surprise is the whimsical element to the book.  I have been thinking and thinking about this angle and I can’t resolve in my head as to what I think actually happened here.  I do think it fits in perfectly with the book and adds a little magical realism to the brutal storyline.

I’m deliberately being vaguer than vague about the plot.  I will tell you it’s about friendships, innocence, first love, betrayal and I can’t promise it won’t make your heart ache.  It’s about 8 full of life school girls, 2 determined detectives, 1 detective/protective parent and 1 dead boy.  But I can’t tell you much more.  I want you to take this book, wander off in the maze, get lost and find your way to the end all on your own.  It’s a great journey and I’m not going to rob you of it.


Rating Report
Did I feel it?
Overall: five-stars


Who should read The Secret Place by Tana French?

The short answer is every book lover.  The long answer is you love psychological thrillers, this is a must read.  If you love solving mysteries, read it.  If you like character driven detective books, read it.  If you like books that feature strong, powerful friendships, read it.  If you like books where nothing is black and white, read it.  If you like words, read it.

Thanks to BooksUnderground for sending me a physical copy of this book with a matching bookmark after I won it on twitter.  And thanks to Edelweiss and Viking Hardcover for giving me an E-Arc in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.


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12 Responses to “Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French”

  1. Alma @ Journey Through Fiction

    Ooh, I Know Who Killed Him sounds so good! I haven’t read and of Tana French’s books yet, but I do have the first book in this series sitting on my shelf waiting to be read 😀 I’ll really have to read it soon, I kind of feel like I’m missing out on an amazing series! Great review, Trish 🙂
    Alma @ Journey Through Fiction recently posted…Review: Dust to Dust by Karina Halle

    • trish

      It’s so good. I loved Into The Woods (book 1) when I read it but now feel it’s my least favourite in the series. You should definitely start the series though, it’s great!

    • trish

      Such a good tag line isn’t it! I suppose the themes are depressing but I just find them honest and realistic so it never gets me down. And I love the characters, every flawed part of them.

  2. Rita @ My Home of Books

    Wow! This was a great experience for you! I have this book on my radar to look for, and will be buying it soon if I can’t get it any other way. I read the first Tana French and wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t her writing, it was that book’s actual plot that didn’t bowl me over. I will be continuing with her, but should I read book #2 first, or can I jump right into The Secret Place? Is this a series that needs to be read in order? Thanks so much.
    Rita @ My Home of Books recently posted…First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros 8/26/14

    • trish

      No, there is no need at all to read in order. Each book follows a different detective so it doesn’t matter if you read out of order. Book 2 The Likeness is great as well though. It’s my second favourite, with The Secret Place now my favourite.
      Just to reassure you, none of the other books have such an ambiguous ending as Into The Woods. I still don’t know how to deal with that ending!

  3. Lark

    I’ve been waiting for your review of this book; I’m glad it didn’t disappoint. You’re the reason I started reading Tana French in the first place. (I still think about In the Woods and that ending!) Good to know this new book of hers fulfills all expectations. And I love that it’s set in a boarding school. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! 🙂
    Lark recently posted…Ireland, Archaeology and a Mystery

    • trish

      It’s my new favourite! The boarding school setting is great as are all the intense friendships. And there are ‘happenings’ in this book that will haunt you just like Into The Woods! Enjoy 🙂

    • trish

      Yay! Will be perfect to start with this one as each one stands on it’s just own fine. Each book focuses on a different detective and a different case so it makes no odds what way you read them. Three of the characters have appeared in previous books but you don’t need to know what happened there to get this book fully. Go for it!

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