The Secret Place by Tana French, Dublin Murder Squad


In life I’m always in a hurry. Slow walkers drive me crazy, I buy groceries at odd times to avoid lines, people with complicated orders at Starbucks might be the death of me. I do everything I possibly can to rush. The only time I’m not in a hurry is when I’m reading a book I don’t want to end.

It took much longer to read the “The Secret Place” than I would like to admit because I didn’t want to come home and find it had moved from my nightstand to my bookshelf.

I have been hooked on Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series since I randomly picked up “In the Woods” at the library. I was drawn in to the story by her beautiful and clear writing, well-developed and realistic characters, fascinating mysteries and insightful look at modern Ireland. She is a master at mixing suspense, police procedure and character development. Mysteries don’t always get the respect they deserve but French’s books are without a doubt some of the best being published today.

After finishing “In the Woods”, I spent hours in the middle of the night scouring reviews and blogs for opinions on the ambiguous ending (that’s another post within itself) because I still couldn’t let go of the story.  I purchased the book for my mom for Christmas that year and she loved it so much that she ordered the rest of French’s books from Amazon.

“The Secret Place” is the latest and fifth addition to the series and brings back several characters from 2010’s “Faithful Place” (my favorite book in the series so far), Detective Stephen Moran, Detective Frank Mackey and his teenage daughter Holly.

Now a student at a posh, all-girls boarding school St. Kilda’s, Holly comes to Stephen with a clue on a cold case. Someone has posted on an anonymous note that says “I know who killed him” on St. Kilda’s confessions bulletin board, The Secret Place (which has a PostSecret-like philosophy but actually is physical board hanging in the school). The note is referring to the murder of Chris Harper, a student at a nearby boarding school for boys St. Colm’s, who was found bludgeoned to death on the grounds of St. Kilda’s about one year earlier.

Stephen joins forces with Antoinette Conway, a detective who was on the original case. They are immediately thrown into the complicated, gritty and brutal world of teenage girls at St. Kilda’s.

It’s been 10 years since I was the same age as the characters but I can still tell that French masterfully captures the habits of teen girls. Chris’ murder brought an unwelcome taste of the outside world to the sheltered and insular St. Kilda’s and it has forced the girls to question the world around them.

This is the first one of her books to switch perspective. Every other chapter shifts from Detective Moran’s perspective to a flashback of the girls at St. Kilda’s before (and eventually after) Chris’ murder.

The characters are believable and nuanced. One of the great gifts of French’s book is the subtlety you get from reading each of her words closely. There is so much insight and detail packed in that I’m sure rereading her books would be worth it. “The Secret Place” is no different and is a pleasure to read.

If you haven’t read of any French’s books, I recommend starting with “In The Woods” and continuing the series in order. You won’t regret it. If you have read any of the books, let me know in the comments.



Book Review: J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm


“The Cuckoo’s Calling” was one of my favorite books of 2013 so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of its follow-up “The Silkworm”. By page two, I was already hooked and thrilled to be brought back into the world of London’s most famous private investigator, Cormoran Strike.

Strike again finds himself embroiled in an intricate and potentially dangerous mystery, the disappearance of novelist Owen Quine. Hired by Quine’s long-suffering wife Leonora, Strike finds that Quine wrote an unpublished “poison-pen” novel “Bombyx Mori” that left Quine with a few high-profile enemies. When Strike discovers that Quine has been murdered in the same grisly way as the main character in “Bombyx Mori”, the list of possible suspects narrows to a small circle within the publishing industry.

In my opinion Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) is one of the best mystery writers publishing today and one of her strengths as a master storyteller is the interesting worlds that her books capture. There’s depth and cultural insight in this series beyond the mysteries themselves.

In “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, I loved reading about the world of supermodel Lula Landry who was adopted into an upper class British family and found herself in the worlds of high fashion, music and celebrity but never really fit in. Set in the cut-throat London publishing and literature scene, the characters in “The Silkworm” are equally interesting. It explores the snobbery, jealously and backstabbing that goes on between novelists, editors and agents. Quine, who only had one bestselling book in his career, felt like he was an underrated and misunderstood author. People assumed that “Bombyx Mori” was his revenge against his colleagues.

Cormoran himself is caught between several worlds that he balances and rejects at the same time: the unstable world of his childhood with his groupie mother, the celebrity lifestyle of his estranged rockstar father and the posh, high-society existence of his ex-girlfriend Charlotte. Since he doesn’t seem to feel comfortable in any of these realms, he has carved out his own spot in the world. It will be interesting to see how Strike and his two-person investigative firm develop over the course of the series.

The mystery is intricate and develops quickly. Once you get about halfway through the book, it is impossible to put down. The reader sees how Strike is gathering the clues and piecing them together in his head but as an outside observer, you are never exactly sure what he is thinking. I didn’t guess the ending of either “The Silkworm” or “The Cuckoo’s Calling”.

Like in the Harry Potter series, Rowling is gifted at writing the main, secondary and peripheral characters. Each character that enters the story comes to life even if they are only around for a line or two. Strike and his partner Robin, we met both in “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, are extremely well-written and their characters are further developed in “The Silkworm”. Robin’s fiancé Matthew is a bigger part of the story this time and he fits into the novel seamlessly. Strike’s half-brother Al Rokeby, a legitimate son of Strike’s rocker father Jonny Rokeby, is a good addition to the series. I’m sure that Jonny Rokeby himself will eventually appear in the series.

Rowling recently told the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival that her next Strike novel (which she is currently halfway through) is her “best-planned” novel yet. Considering how great her other books are, I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the return of Detective Frank Mackey and the Dublin Murder Squad on September 2nd when Tana French’s new book The Secret Place comes out.