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THE SECRET PLACE - TANA FRENCH

22nd August 2014

I know who killed him.  Do you?

Ignoring the old adage, I initially judged this book by the cover when I decided to enter the First Reads giveaway; the ransom-note style post-it on the front really grabbed me.

The marketing alone for the novel has been first class and I just knew that with such a clever build-up, the book was going to be a gem.  The packaging in which I received the book was unusual and enticing, with a sticker on it saying "soon, everyone will know", which really added something to the mystery before I even opened it.  That and having seen billboards around the country proclaiming various respected authors knowledge of "who-did-it".  Take a bow whoever does the marketing at Hodder & Stoughton!

And so to the plot.  At a prestigious private all-girl's school St Kilda's in Dublin, someone has put something incredibly important up on 'The Secret Place'; a noticeboard, where frustrated girls can vent their feelings and gripes without revealing their identity.

This person has placed a photo of Chris Harper and a post-it stating "I know who killed him".  Chris, a pupil from nearby St Colm's all-boys school, was found murdered in the grounds of St Kildas's a year ago.  His killer was never found.

Holley Mackey, a pupil of the school has seen the note on The Secret Place, and being the daughter of a police detective has brought it to the police station, specifically to Detective Stephen Moran.  Moran is stuck in Cold Cases, and sees this breakthrough as his chance to maybe grab a spot in Murder squad.

That means giving the clue to Antoinette Conway, the only female detective in the sexist and male-dominated Murder squad.  The unsolved case was her first since arriving in the department, so she needs this clue badly, and she reluctantly brings Moran along as she re-opens what was becoming a dead file.

Returning to St Kilda's, Conway is incredibly focused and it is clear that she never stopped obsessing over the case, knowing every girl and their quirks and schemes without missing a heartbeat.  Conway and Moran must work together to unwind all the twisted half-truths and lies provided by various teenage girls of the school, in order to bring a killer to justice.

The chemistry between Conway and Moran is electric, and the cliched roles of male and female cops is refreshingly turned on its head in this novel.  This is due to Conway having been hardened through her time working with chauvinist sexist colleagues, and Moran is a softer and more chilled out cop who can put the girls at ease in order to unlock parts of the mystery.

The girls are the main draw here though, especially the two rival gangs of girls, whose language seemed fresh and believable.  One gang is headed by Joanne, practically a dictator who rules through fear and intimidation of her 3 foot-soldiers Gemma, Orla and Alison, and who blames everyone else for everything else while flirting with anyone who will pay her enough attention.  The other is a foursome of Holly, Selena, Julia and Rebecca, whose sisterly bond seems to be stronger even than family, though it means that they are often perceived as weird or witches by their fellow pupils.

One of these 8 girls probably put the note up, and possibly one of them may be the killer, but Conway and Moran know that suspicions and finger-pointing will not solve a murder case alone.  They race against time to find the absolute truth before the prestigious school uses its considerable influence to shut the case file for good with Conway's superiors.

The novel was a thrilling read, perfectly woven with the right amount of humour, twists and downright bitchiness.  I have not read any novels previously by Tana French, but this being the 5th in a series of novels featuring the Dublin Murder Squad, it probably won't be the last.

I received this book, for free as part of the Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Rating: 4/5 stars