Imagine attending a posh girls’ boarding school in County Dublin, when a student from the neigbouring, and equally posh, boys’ boarding school is murdered on your school grounds. And then, a year later, posted on a school noticeboard: ‘I know who killed him’.
‘The Secret Place’ is a locked-room mystery: one of eight teenage girls holds the answer to the mystery of Chris Harper’s death, and are questioned in turn by partners Antoinette Conway and Chris Moran.
The novel switches time-scale, between the teenagers’ interrogation, and flashbacks. The latter count down the time to the murder: ‘Chris Harper …has six months, a week and four days left to live’. Personally, I found that this built suspense, though other readers may find the continued reminding gets on their nerves.
The one thing I did find challenging about the time switches was my tendency to forget what had happened in the initial interviews. I began to wish I had stuck colour-coded Post-It tabs into the book for each of the eight girls!
I found the book to be a satisfying read, both maintaining the sense of suspense, while accurately protraying the clique-iness (and bitchiness) of its teenage characters. There’s also the interplay between the two detectives, working together for the first time, and their differing reactions to the atmosphere of privilege and wealth in which they find themselves.
A flirtation with the paranormal mid-way through stretched credibility for me, but thankfully didn’t take over.
A good chunky whodunnit, though one I feel more geared to a female than male audience.