I thought long and hard about this one, but could not justify giving this above 3 stars. The best parts were the POV with Stephen Moran. The other sections going back and forth to the group of Holly's friends just took me out of the book every time. I thought showing how Stephen and Antoinette closed down a case in a single day was pretty cool, but other than that I had issues with the story-telling, the supernatural elements, and honestly the ending of the book just fell a bit flat.
"The Secret Place" is the 5th book in the Dublin Murder Squad books that Tana French writes. Except for "The Likeness" (which I DNFed pretty hard when I got to the premise of that one) I have really enjoyed all of the books in the series. This one was still a three star read. Maybe if you excise out the sections with the girls you can get up to a five star read.
Stephen Moran is on Cold Cases in Dublin. His dream is to get to go work murder cases with the murder squad. He talks about taking his shot years ago (see "Faithful Place") and now he's worried that maybe taking his shot may have hurt him with some people (also see "Broken Harbor"). It's been about 7 years since the events in "Faithful Place". Frank Mackey's 16 year old daughter Holly comes in looking for Stephen he wonders what she could possibly want. Holly informs him that she goes to the school where a young boy (Chris Harper) was found murdered last year. There's a special bulletin board at her girls school called "The Secret Place" where someone put up a photo of the boy with lettering saying "I Know Who Killed Him." Stephen thinks Holly may be his way into the Murder Squad and goes and meets with the lead detective on it, Antoinette Conway. Conway decides to allow Stephen to accompany her to the girls school and he starts working the case with her.
I initially didn't like Stephen. Reading things from Scorcher's POV the last book had me liking this character and thinking what a shit Stephen was. It didn't help that Stephen had comments about Antoinette (he heard she slept with someone to get to where she is today) and the other girls in the story. He seemed to be silently judging everything, but also looking down upon Antoinette for being too abrasive. I slowly came to like him though when I saw that he was working well and liking Antoinette in spite of his fight against it. He talks a lot about finding your perfect partner and realizing that she is that for him. It made me feel sad for Scorcher since he was wanting that too before he decided to retire from the Murder Squad.
The secondary characters when told from Stephen's POV come alive a lot better. He sees better than most I think of other people. And he was better with the group of girls when interviewing. I do think that he was dumb enough to seem to be choosing to be on Holly's side when Frank Mackey eventually shows up. I was pleasantly surprised though when Stephen is shown that his prior actions that he took have consequences. He wants to be better and not some guy who will just do whatever to get ahead.
I think the biggest issue for me was that I didn't like any of the girls. That includes Holly's group (Julia, Rebecca, Selena) and Joanne's group (Gemma, Alison, Orla). I was a teen girl, I know how brutal we can be so Joanne's group of sycophants didn't phase me at all. I agree with Conway that Holly's group was the more dangerous. Mainly because they were not seeing yet how things were going to change when they were adults and how foolish they were to make promises (no boys forever while we are at school) that I could see being a problem down the line.
Out of the girls I did like Holly the best. I thought Julia was foolish as hell when we get into what she did, I didn't like Rebecca and felt indifferent towards Selena. There is one scene with Holly and her parents and she gets a whiff of how things change from school. Her mother comes in from being out with her best friend back when she boarded and how things change in decades. And I think Holly was seeing for the first time you can't live in your friends pockets as much as you would want to.
The writing was so so when we pull out of Stephen's POV. I think deciding to turn all of the other sections into third person POV was a mistake. It took me out of the story. Also the writing started to become repetitive in those sections. Thank you for constantly doing the countdown to how many days Chris Harper had to live (that's sarcasm by the way).
The supernatural elements with the girls was ridiculous. Sorry, I just could not take it seriously.
The flow was wrecked going back from present to past. I started to get seriously annoyed anytime I wasn't reading Stephen's POV. I just wanted to know who did it and for them to be found out by him and Conway. I didn't care anymore about the group of girls.
The setting of the book is mainly at the girls school (St. Kilda's School) over the course of a single day. I liked the whole aspect of the case being wrapped up in a day.
The ending didn't surprise me at all. I am curious what happened to all of the players in this one (well not the detectives) when this was all over. Why French jumped back in time to show you who put the photo up on "The Secret Place" I didn't think was all that great. I wish she had fast forwarded a year to the girls graduating to see how they were.