Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

'I know who killed him.'

Could these few words, posted on a notice board in an exclusive girls' boarding school, be Detective Stephen Moran's passport to the Murder Squad?

Moran is about to be plunged into the single most intense and nerve-shredding day of this life, investigating the story of a boy whose murder has remained unsolved for a year, and a group of girls on the verge of womanhood, who all seem to have something to hide.

Comtemporary crime fiction isn't usually my thing; the glamorous world of the 1930s and Agatha Christie are about my level when it comes to mystery and murder. But the premise of this story lured me in.The boarding school setting appealed instantly to me. It's strange how in children's literature boarding schools such as St Trinian's and Hogwarts are places of mayhem and cameraderie, but they become altogether more sinister and somewhat sordid in adult fiction.

The writing style drew me in from the very first page; it's incredibly well written and full of suspense. The narrative switches between the re-opened investigation one year after the murder, and the lives of the students in the months leading up to it. In this structure the novel builds slowly towards two climaxes: Chris's murder, and the revelation of who killed him. There is no Poirot-esque keeping of ideas from the reader for the big reveal - we are in on all of the detectives' thinking as they try to make sense of it all. This makes for such a detailed narrative that you really have to concentrate. It is a slow burner of a book, and one that is definitely worth taking your time over.

One thing worth noting about this novel is that it is very dialogue driven. The majority of the novel takes place during a single day, the action barely leaves the school grounds, and there are entire chapters dedicated to the interviews with the pupils. Yet is still compelling. These detailed interviews are told from the perspective of Detective Moran as we solve the case with him. Another thing that I liked about this novel is how it portrayed the teenage characters in a realistic light. I've read far too many books full of stereotyped girls that I was worried but French has it spot on. There is a ruthless hierarchy among the students. They are fiercely protective of their closest friends, just as teenage girls are.

This was my first time reading Tana French so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleased to find that there was no blood and gore in this book as that is what puts me off modern crime! It was chilling at times and I was absolutely gripped- I took it everywhere with me! It is unlike anything I've ever read before, it broadened my horizons, and I can't wait to read French's other books now!

The Secret Place is beautifully written; the language flows conveying an almost haunting image of the depth of human nature, and just how far some people are prepared to go to protect the people they love. It demonstrates a profound understanding of the mindset of teenage girls -your friends are your world- and for a book with so little action it draws you in remarkably well, keeping you well and truly hooked until the very last page. French is a master of her craft. 

5/5 stars: Gripping from the first page to the last, The Secret Place is a thrilling, chilling account of the lengths people will go to to protect the ones they love.


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