Posts Tagged ‘Faithful Place’

secretplaceTell me a story. Tell me a lie. Find me the truth.  Tana French is a terrific storyteller, and in the fifth in the Dublin Murder Squad series, The Secret Place (Viking Penguin, digital galley), the detectives looking for the truth about a murdered teen face a school full of accomplished liars. The teenage girls at posh St. Kilda’s lie to their parents, their teachers, the police, their classmates and even their closest friends. They withhold information. They embroider events. They revise history. They make things up. It’s a matter of self-preservation, because as good as they are at lying, they are even better at keeping secrets. But for how long?

More than a year after the body of Chris Harper, a popular student at a neighboring boys’ school, is found on the grounds of St. Kilda’s, someone anonymously posts a photograph of Chris on a confessional bulletin board with the caption, “I know who killed him.” Holly Mackey, the 16-year-old daughter of  homicide detective Frank Mackey, surreptitiously takes the photo not to her da but to Stephen Moran, a cold case squad detective she met several years ago during an investigation. (Frank Mackey was the featured character in French’s third book Faithful Place, where Holly and Moran had secondary roles.)

Although the elder Mackey eventually makes a memorable entrance in The Secret Place, this story belongs to Moran and the original detective on the Harper case, the chip-on-her-shoulder Antoinette Conway, and to Holly and her classmates. French  structures the book from the alternating perspectives of the girls in the months preceding and following Chris’s death and that of Moran, who narrates his and Conway’s 36-hour investigation at the school. Whether writing lyrically of past events or detailing the intimacy of the present, French is spot-on at capturing the volatility of teenage friendships and romances, the hothouse aura of hormones and peer pressure. She also captures the conflicted emotions of the detectives, battling their own insecurities. Who exactly is playing who?

Moran and Conway focus their attention on eight boarding students allied in two groups of four. Holly and her three friends are closer than sisters, sharing an almost mystical bond that makes them swear off boyfriends in favor of female empowerment. Their classmates find them weird, especially the four “Daleks” headed by mean girl Joanne. The tension between the two groups is palpable, especially after it emerges that Chris had romanced at least two girls among them, passing out burner cell phones for one-on-one communication. But the sweetness of first love is tinged by betrayal, then blotted by murder.

The Secret Place is long, complex and wonderfully immersive. It reads slowly in the beginning as the characters are sorted out, and the pace lags whenever the detectives must decipher the teens’ endless texts and annoying slang. But French’s an astute psychologist, maintaining suspense throughout as to the identity of  the “Mystery Girl.” It’s no secret that I’ll read anything she writes.




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Some writers have the gift of immersing you so completely in their world that you look up from the page with a start, surprised by the reality of your living room or cafe corner, or, heaven forbid, cramped airport seat, wherever you happen to be reading. Tana French whisks you away to Ireland with not so much a brogue as a silver tongue, persuasive and beguiling. Such a lovely writer.

French has three crime novels to her credit, each quite different from the others yet linked by sense of place and character. I love them all: In the Woods, a police procedural with an unreliable narrator and a whiff of something dark and haunted in a suburban village outside Dublin; The Likeness, in which a young cop goes undercover in an old Irish country house taken over by some university friends of secret history; and Faithful Place, the new one where a middle-aged Dublin detective is pulled back to the red-brick tenements and grasping tendrils of family he thought he’d escaped for good long ago.

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was 19 and heartsick when his girlfriend Rosie Daly stood him up on the winter night they were supposed to elope to England. He left Faithful Place and didn’t look back, and over the years, Rosie’s defection has worn itself into a corner in his mind, “like a bullet lodged too deep to dig out.” But now Frank’s younger sister Jackie, the only member of his contentious family with whom he’s kept in touch, calls to tell him Rosie’s old suitcase has been found in a nearby derelict house slated for gentrification. Frank’s jerked back to Faithful Place, his old assumptions crumbling like the bones soon found in the house’s basement. Rosie’s bones.

 Neither the cops working the case nor the old Faithful Place families, his own especially, want Frank around mucking up things. His alcoholic father coughs venom, his ma goes along with the abuse like always. His siblings, who haven’t escaped the neighborhood, eye him with suspicion, resentment and envy. Then there’s another family tragedy — accident? suicide? — and Frank doesn’t believe his estranged wife when she says no one could have predicted this event. 

“Personally, I would in fact have bet on at least one member of my family coming to a sticky and complicated end…”

But Frank doesn’t forsee that what next awaits him at Faithful Place is more even more complicated and sticky with memories and betrayals. It even threatens his 9-year-old daughter Holly. And it makes him wonder where his loyalties really lie, and how will he keep the faith?

Open Book: I have a trade paperback of Tana French’s In the Woods, a hardcover of The Likeness, and the e-book of Faithful Place (Penguin Group). They’re all keepers.

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