Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Secret Place by Tana French

tanaFrench

Tana French has got her groove back, thank goodness. I really didn’t like her last book (Broken Harbor) but this one had me staying up late and reading on my work breaks to find out whodunit. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you.)

If you’ve never read Tana French, you can start with any book – they are all loosely connected by way of being about someone in the Dublin Murder Squad, but since each novel stands alone and features different detectives, there are no real spoilers. If you are only going to read one of her books, try The Likeness (if you like suspense) or Faithful Place (if you like complicated family drama). Of course if you’re a purist and intend to read them all, start with her first, In the Woods. It doesn’t matter where you start, they’re all good (as long as you avoid Broken Harbor).

The Secret Place’s protagonist is detective Stephen Moran. We met Moran initially in Faithful Place, but now he is working in Cold Cases. One morning, the daughter of his former mentor Frank Mackey comes to him with a card she found – a card with a picture of Chris Harper, a boy who was murdered on the grounds of her school, St Kilda’s, over a year ago. The card reads “I know who killed him.” Moran isn’t on the Murder Squad, but he wants to be. He shows the card to Antoinette Conway, whose case it was before it went cold over a year ago. Her partner on that case has since retired, so she grudgingly accepts Moran as temporary sidekick. They drive out to St Kilda’s to investigate, and what follows is a roller-coaster ride where he and Conway encounter defensive nuns, warring mean girl cliques, and what seem like endless layers of deception. Moran and Conway don’t know each other, so they are constantly trying to feel each other out on the fly and aren’t sure how far to trust one another – if at all. And as the evidence starts to implicate Holly, her father gets involved and Stephen has to decide whether to risk career suicide by offending his former boss or bail.

The most intriguing aspect of this story is the very real threats Stephen faces while working this case. First of all, he isn’t on the Murder Squad, and his involvement could be interpreted as poaching. Second, Conway is an outsider in the Murder Squad – the men have never accepted her, and are actively trying to drive her out. Aligning himself with her could be genius if they solve the case, but if they don’t, he may as well go back to being a uniformed cop. As a person of a lower social class and as a man, he has to be extra careful dealing with the girls at St. Kilda’s, who can so easily destroy him with any hint of impropriety on his part. He dances delicately, and it’s fun to watch.

What reads like this book? Hmmm. Some of the characters remind me of Gillian Flynn’s younger characters in both Sharp Objects and Dark Places. The fierce friendship between the girls and the isolation of their school life reminded me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but that’s a stretch.

Sinful Folk: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Ned Hayes

sinful folk

I find the weirdest reading materials by accident sometimes. I found this book while searching for a picture book illustrated by Nikki McClure, and the cover was compelling – so I read the description. It was about the medeival period and a possible murder and a former nun disguised as a mute man raising her illigitimate son alone and suddenly I had to have it. It was based on a true story, even, and I’m a sucker for those.

The heroine’s son has been killed in a fire, along with some other boys in her village, and she and the other fathers (she is living as a man, remember) have decided to haul their bodies to the king and demand justice for their deaths. The loudest of the men is convinced that Jews are responsible – even though all of the Jews were driven from their village years before – and he convinces the others that the king should pay for not wiping out the Jews for good. This is, of course, a foolish idea. They are ill-prepared for such a journey and to travel the king’s highway without protection from the crown or a patron lord is practically suicide. Mear does not believe the story of evil Jews, and has seen evidence that one of the villagers is the culprit (and may even be the same person who killed her only female friend in the village a few years back). But she cannot bear the idea of being parted from her son, so she goes along, hoping to discover along the way who killed the boys and find some peace. 

 I devoured the first 1/4 of the book in worshipful fascination. This book was beautiful! I had discovered the book that could live forever in my heart with along with  Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book! Mear’s love for her son, her grief at the loss of his father – it was almost poetic. But then slowly, the whole story just lost its way. I began it so eager to find out who Mear was, why she had fled the monastery where she was raised, who her son’s father was , why he wasn’t present and who murdered the boys and why – but as the story went on, none of these things seemed to matter any more – I just wanted them to stop wandering around in the snow with a cartload of dead bodies, fighting amongst themselves whevever they weren’t fighting off people bent on killing them. Anyway, by the time the questions were all answered, I didn’t really care any more. Plus some of the events were so totally unbelievable I couldn’t forgive the author at all for putting them in. The idea that this ragtag group could survive all of the things they survived, only to fail so miserably at other, simpler tasks, seemed laughable. I finished the book, but under protest.

I don’t know. Maybe this was just a case where my disappointment in the end has colored the whole book for me. I still do think that the first part of the book was wonderful, so maybe another reader would like it just fine.