Archive for September, 2014


This clever marketing campaign accompanied the publication of The Secret Place by Tana French, with luminaries such as Stephen King, Kate Mosse and Sophie Hannah all claiming that they knew who killed Chris Harper in ‘The Secret Place’ by Tana French. The Amazon blurb reads:

‘The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago. The caption says, ‘I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM’. Detective Stephen Moran hasn’t seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she’s sixteen and she’s shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story. Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys’ school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place – the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously – Holly found the card. Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway – tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn’t want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn’t want to hear.’

And now the members of Berwick Book Group also know who killed Chris Harper (no spoilers in this blog, I promise!) but, interestingly, our group of nine were sharply divided into those who were completely gripped by the mystery and those who couldn’t care less.

Martin was gripped. He writes: ‘Ten to midnight on Monday and I’ve just managed to finish reading The Secret Place. I had to squeeze it into a busy schedule because I loved it.  A well paced novel which introduced me to the secret, hothouse world of teenage girls and reminded me of the crass, obsessive world of teenage boys. Although set in Ireland it was managed without imposing a raft of foreign linguistics apart from the odd “Yous” and not one “eejit”. I still don’t know what an emo is but suspect it is abusive. The two detectives managed to chafe against each other quite merrily and navigate the perils of copper politics and prejudices successfully without falling into bed with each other at the end. My only reservation was the presence of supernatural powers but then it was a work of fiction so if it’s OK for Harry Potter I can tolerate it here. And O how it caressed all my prejudices against the rich, the religious and private education. This is her fifth book, I picked another up today and look forward to finding the other 3 soon.’

Bronwen, on the other hand, hated the book. She reads a lot of crime fiction but couldn’t get past chapter 2 of this one.  She really disliked the writing style and found the girls to be annoyingly over-hysterical virtually from page 1.

Janet, another crime fiction reader, and a published crime writer herself, also didn’t finish the book. She liked the relationship between Stephen Moran and his boss Conroy, but she couldn’t differentiate between the girls (not the only one of our members to express this thought) and had no interest whatsoever in most of the characters.  She also thought that there was no real plot. Nichola loved it and particularly enjoyed the use of two time frames – the one day investigation mixed in with a back story which took place over the preceding year. After finishing the book, she had gone on to read the first three books in the series and was about to start on the fourth.

Helen wasn’t impressed. She writes: ‘For a while I thought ‘The Secret Place’ was called ‘I know who killed him’ – possibly a better title?  I did find it quite heavy going.  I seem to have less and less patience with clever-clever writing.  What I want when I pick up a novel is a good story, well-told. I’m really looking for something with proper sentences and reliable punctuation.  Even if the narrator isn’t grammatical the author should be able to cope with this on behalf of her reader.  Tara French doesn’t; so for me it’s a no-no.  Sorry!’

Paula gave the book a thumbs-up. She enjoyed the exploration of the class differences between the school and the detectives. She thought the detectives’ backgrounds were very well drawn and she liked the writing style.  The placing of the investigation within one day worked well to increase tension, enhanced by the growing tiredness of the detectives and the claustrophobic atmosphere in the school.  For her, the plot was plausible on the whole but some elements were perhaps a bit extreme.  Other minor criticisms were that the girls in Joanne’s group were edging towards caricature, and she would have preferred the book to finish with the main plot denouement, a few chapters before the end. However, she thought it was a disturbing and interesting read.

Rose liked the book too, finding it an interesting comparison between the life of contemporary young adults and her life when she was a girl. She particularly enjoyed the strong and well-drawn characters. She described the book as more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it’.

I was absolutely gripped by The Secret Place.  It is topical in its use of texts and mobile phone footage and in its exploration of the dangers and consequences of teenagers’ use of social media, yet timeless in its depiction of the intensity of teenage friendships and the dangerous potency of puberty.  The title has two meanings, and everything else about this book is also complex and layered. The characters are flawed and complicated, and the teenage girls, in particular, change and shift before our eyes.  Conway and Stephen Moran, the two detectives, are also on a many-layered journey, testing the strength of their fledgling professional relationship and dealing with their feelings about the privileged world of the private girls’ school as well as trying to get to the bottom of the central mystery.  Even the lesser characters are beautifully drawn.  I particularly liked the power play between Conway and the headmistress, and between Stephen Moran and Holly’s father Mackey.  The structure, with its split narrative and two time frames, is very clever, and the prose is evocative and powerful with some beautiful descriptive passages. I was surprised to discover that the book is number five in a series – it reads perfectly well as a stand-alone story.

Ann Coburn


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

September 2014
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