I've read and loved everything by Tana French, so I moved quickly to get her newest novel, The Secret Place, when it came out. And I wasn't disappointed. This was another novel that I gave a "5" to on my 1-5 scale.
French's mysteries all involve a murder squad within the Dublin police force, but each features a different detective and each novel stands squarely alone. French's stories unfold slowly. There are no gimmicks -- just deep character development and careful plotting. What I love about French's mysteries is how the place becomes almost an additional character in the story. The setting provides the tone and color for the whole novel in a way that I don't often see in books.
And that was true in The Secret Place, which takes place in a posh girls' boarding school. There'd been a murder there a year ago, as yet unsolved. But when the novel begins, one student approaches a detective she remembers because she finds an unsettling reference to the murder on the school's "secret place," a bulletin board where students are encouraged to post whatever anonymous bits they like. As the detectives investigate how the note came to be there and what it might mean about the murder, they see more and more of the life at the school. There's the sense of layers being pulled back and revealed as more secrets emerge and characters' relationships emerge.
The novel actually takes place over the course of one rather long day. The story was engrossing, and French's writing is skillful and evocative. But what I especially loved is how the theme of belonging, of fitting in, of how much of yourself it is safe to reveal to the people around you, carries through. It's explored as the dynamics between the school girls are examined, and it's something the detective himself struggles with as he works to sort out his own role among the detectives.
This was a rich, deep reading experience.