Thriller Week Review & Giveaway: THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French

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Welcome, everyone, to the third annual Thriller Week here on Kindles & Wine! If you are anything like us, the cooler weather and shorter days make you want to snuggle up with your favorite hot beverage and your favorite mystery/suspense novel. We’ve got your recommendations covered here on K&W—7 thriller reviews in 7 days! Read on for my review of a new book by one of my all-time favorite authors and a fabulous giveaway!

The Secret Place cover

Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Length: 529 pages
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Viking Adult (Penguin)
Series: Dublin Murder Squad, Book 5
Source & Format: Review copy provided by publisher via Netgalley; digital
 
Official Summary
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
 
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
 
But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.
 
The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.
 
 

Laura‘s Review

Another Thriller Week, another Tana French novel for this reader! Eagle-eyed and elephant-memoried readers of K&W may remember that two years ago I opened Thriller Week with my glowing review of Broken Harbor, the previous book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. So it probably comes as no surprise that I had very high expectations for this one, as she is one of my very favorite authors.

So, did The Secret Place live up to the hype? Yes and no. This book marked a departure for French in some ways, which is always a risky move. Her previous format was so successful that it seemed odd to me that she would deviate from it.

Unlike her previous books, this book is told in dual narratives. The first narrative is from the point of view of the current investigation, with Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway investigating the reopened case of the death of Chris Harper. The second story line is told from the point of view of Holly and her group of friends and starts about a year before the murder and slowly catches up with present day. I have mixed feelings about this approach in general. In this case I didn’t enjoy dividing my time between the two, as I didn’t care for the teenage girl part as much.

One of the strengths of French’s previous books has been the character of the investigating detective. I have loved being in the shoes of previous detectives—those characters, in all their flawed glory, seemed to jump off the page as I found myself completely enmeshed in the investigation. She has a way of writing the police procedural that makes me feel like I am investigating the case alongside the detective. In contrast, the main detective in The Secret Place, Stephen Moran, is rather unremarkable. He is a bit of a snooze, actually, to be honest. Now Conway, she has potential, but we don’t get to see nearly enough of her, unfortunately. (Confidential to TF if you are somehow reading this: Please make Antoinette Conway the main character of your next book.) Also, because of the dual story line mentioned above, we only spend half of our time on the investigation, which limited how invested I felt in the detectives.

And because we are investigating a murder of a teenager at a boarding school, some parts of the plot get a bit, well, confusing. As Detective Moran says: “This was giving me the head-staggers, keeping it straight who would do what to who if which. Fair play to teenage girls; I’d never have been able for it.” Me neither, Detective Moran! In addition, there are some supernatural elements in the story that I just didn’t care for.

With all that said, this is still not a bad book, not by a long shot. Her writing, you guys! It is just so evocative. Here is French describing young love:

You forget what it was like. You’d swear on your life you never will, but year by year it falls away. How your temperature ran off the mercury, your heart galloped flat-out and never needed to rest, everything was pitched on the edge of shattering glass. How wanting something was like dying of thirst. How your skin was too fine to keep out any of the million things flooding by; every color boiled bright enough to scald you, any second of any day could send you soaring or rip you to bloody shreds.
 
 

While this one didn’t pull me in by my nose hairs and make me stay up way past my bedtime, I still flew through the 529 pages pretty darn fast. The mystery and the terrific writing make you want to keep reading. It’s a strong entry in the series, and I personally cannot wait for her next book. I hope she returns to the format and characters that made some of her previous books such standouts for me.

Bottom Line

Not my favorite book by Tana French, but still an interesting and engrossing mystery that is astonishingly well-written. (The writing in this one truly takes her to the next level.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you aren’t reading Tana French, you’re missing out on one of mystery’s most exciting contemporary writers. Also, while this book is technically the fifth in the series, the books can be read in any order.

Rating: B- (3½ stars)

Wine/Beverage Pairing: Sticking with Guinness, in honor of Ireland. Thick, dark, and strong, with an unmistakable tang.

Buy Digital:  Kindle  |  Nook
 
Buy Print:  Amazon  |  B&N
  

 

Other Titles by Tana French

In the Woods mini coverIn the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, Book 1)

Goodreads
 
Buy:  Amazon  |  Kindle  |  B&N  |  Nook
 
 
 

 

Broken Harbor mini coverBroken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad, Book 4)
(Kindles & Wine Best Reads of 2012 selection)

Laura’s Review  |  Goodreads
 
Buy:  Amazon  |  Kindle  |  B&N  |  Nook
 
 

 

The Secret Place Giveaway

The lovely folks at Viking Books are generously giving away a print copy of The Secret Place to THREE lucky Kindles & Wine commenters (U.S. and Canadian residents only).

To enter for your chance to win, you must:

  1. Be a follower of our blog (click HERE to subscribe), AND…
  2. Since one of my favorite things about Tana French books has been the investigating detectives, hit the comments and tell me: Who is your favorite fictional detective (book or TV), and why?

Please note: All entrants must review and adhere to our official giveaway policy. This contest will close on Monday, September 22, 2014 at 11:59 PM (CDT) and the three winners will be notified via email on Tuesday, September 23.