Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
Even though this is the fifth instalment of the Dublin Murder Squad series, they’re all standalone novels, so this is as good a place to start as any.
Set in a girls’ secondary school, the book is a study of the hype, drama, hyperbole, and secrets beloved of teenage girls. Add in the make up, lip gloss, hairspray and tight tops to attract the boys from the school next door and you can see why murder is the least of their concerns.
Into this world apart come Detective Conway who failed to solve the murder last year and Detective Moran who’s languishing in Cold Cases and desperately wants to break into the Murder Squad. But first they must penetrate the wall of lies, misdirection, and deceit thrown at them by teenage girls who are always one step ahead.
The girls are divided into two gangs: Joanne, Alison, Orla, and Gemma are hell bent on running the show as long as Joanne sets the agenda. Julia, Selena, Rebecca, and Holly are too cool for all that and wedded to each other by a loyalty the others can’t break.
And yet someone killed Chris Harper.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s a classic study of teenage girls, what unites them, what divides them, what obsesses them, what drives them. Between confusion over who likes who, who’s lying about whom, who’s into what boy, how far should you go, how far did she go, what should she wear, why is she wearing that, it’s an impossible fog of hormones and mind games to navigate.
French has it down to a tee in this novel, where you’ll laugh out loud at some of the descriptions. There’s a scene in The Court shopping centre where the boys and girls mingle (preen) that is a pure anthropological study of the mating rituals of teenagers. And very funny. But also very insightful about the pure trial of being a teenage girl where your body becomes a battlefield between your own desires (or not), the desires of teenage boys (who are always trying it on, just because), and the rumour mill which damns you no matter what you do.