Tag Archives: Tana French

Reading: ‘The Secret Place’ by Tana French

The Secret Place by Tana French

I am, unabashedly, a genre reader. I love to read mysteries, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, the occasional dollop of science fiction and every now and then a quirky, funny romance. While I like beautiful prose as much as the next reader, gorgeous prose only takes me so far – if it’s not accompanied by an interesting plot and well-developed characters, it’s hard for me to keep plugging away at it.

When I want beautiful prose for its own sake, I’d much rather turn to poetry.

With Tana French’s mysteries, a reader like me comes away very satisfied. There’s plot, there’s great character development – and then there’s words used so well, so beautifully, so elegantly, phrases and snippets of sentences stay with you for days after you’ve finished the book, lingering in your mind, like a taste of memory, almost but not quite tangible.

French’s most recent book, The Secret Place, doesn’t fail in all three regards: plot, character and writing. Number 5 in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, it’s not necessary to have read the previous books first before opening up this one. There is no main series protagonist the way there is in other mystery series. Instead, the loose thread tying each of the books is the fact that the characters are homicide detectives on Dublin’s Murder Squad, and after the first book, the main character in each subsequent book has been a character who first showed up in a previous book in the series.

The The Secret Place stars Detective Stephen Moran, not yet on the Murder Squad but seeing his chance in this case, and Detective Antoinette Conway, who is on the Murder Squad but with a reputation of not being “one of the boys”, fueled largely by the fact that she is a woman.

The murder takes place at St. Kilda’s, an exclusive all-girls boarding school. Adding a wrinkle to the investigation is the involvement of Holly Mackay, the daughter of Detective Frank Mackay, with whom Stephen had worked previously in Faithful Place.  The victim, found dead on the lawns of St. Kilda’s, is a boy from a neighbouring boys’ school.

While the story takes place in one day filled with interviews at St. Kilda’s, each of the interview scenes is followed by a scene set among the students in the year leading up to the murder. It’s a daring structure, and French pulls it off elegantly and beautifully, leaving the reader with a feeling of effortlessness as we are taken back and forth between the two timelines, never confused, never at a loss as to what has happened.

What left me in awe, though, was French’s handling of the characters. In addition to the two detectives, the novel focuses on eight teenaged girls, all students of St. Kilda’s. French deftly brings each of the girls to life, so that even in passages without benefit of some identifying feature, it’s easy to know who the characters are.

The story is well-plotted, leaving you wondering for much of the novel as French plants suspicions here, there and everywhere. French also adds a touch of possible magic  in a “is it? isn’t it?” way that is pure magic in itself, adding yet another layer to an already beautifully intricate story. It’s just a touch of magic, and to my mind, is a perfect fit for those short wonder years of teenaged girldom, where so much around us is touched with possibility and potential.

And as for the writing … When I first started reading The Secret Place, I wanted to jot down lines that sent shivers down my spine. After a while, though, I realized if I did that, I’d end up writing down most of the book. You can flip to almost any page at random in The Secret Place and find some bit of description that will linger on in your mind. You can almost taste that year at St. Kilda’s, the  way the girls’ lives are intertwined as I can only imagine must happen within the confines of a boarding school, how they’ve grown, matured, deepened.

I just flipped through to a random page in my ebook copy, and this is what popped out at me:

“None of them would ever have imagined what they had brushed up against; what other selves, other lives, other deaths were careening ferocious and unstoppable along their tracks, only a sliver of time away. The grounds are pocketed with clusters of girls, all blazing and amazed with inchoate love for one another and for their own growing closeness; none of the others will feel the might of that swerve as the tracks switch and their own power takes them barreling into another landscape.”

This kind of writing occurs throughout the novel. A beautiful read with an enjoyable, engrossing mystery. I’m looking forward to the next Tana French book!

The Likeness, by Tana French

The LikenessIn The Likeness, by Tana French, we meet up with Cassie Maddox again, this time without her former police partner Rob Ryan by her side.

The body of a murder victim has been discovered in the ruins of an old cottage in a village outside Dublin. Not only is the woman Cassie’s virtual twin but the police discover the victim has been going by the name of Lexie Madison, an identity which the police had created for its drug squad years ago, and an identity which Cassie had used during her stint as an undercover officer.

With some trepidation, Cassie agrees to assume this old identity again, and go undercover as Lexie Madison. As Lexie, Cassie steps into the world of a Trinity College graduate student rooming with four other students in an old house close by the cottage in which the victim’s body was discovered.

I had enjoyed Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods, despite not liking the ending very much, so I’d been looking forward to The Likeness.

But when I finally got a hold of a copy from my local library, I found it difficult to get into the book. I kept reading a bit, and then putting it down and not coming back to it for days. I ended up having to renew the book for the maximum number of renewals, and the main reason I finished it was because, going into the last third of the book, I’d run out of renewals and knew that if I didn’t finish it then, I probably wouldn’t be likely to finish it anytime in the near future.

Tana French writes beautifully and eloquently – her writing was one of the things I really enjoyed about In The Woods. But when I finally put down The Likeness for the last time, I found I hadn’t liked it nearly as much as I’d enjoyed In The Woods.

I finally realized why the other day, and, as it turns out, it has everything to do with me, the reader, and nothing to do with the book itself.

You see, I’d picked up The Likeness anticipating a mystery, but the mystery itself isn’t really the draw of the book. The book’s appeal lies in French’s writing, and in her depictions of the many flawed characters who populate The Likeness.

So what happened was this: I expected a mystery, and I kept expecting a mystery. The mystery itself is, of course, an important part of the book, as without it, Cassie wouldn’t be living the tense life of an undercover police officer, surrounded by murder suspects. But I’m not so certain that the mystery itself was the point of the book.

I also tend to favor more of a clear line between good and evil in the mysteries I read, so that, at some point during the narrative, there is a specific  intent to cause serious harm to someone else. The murderer in In The Woods, for example, is a chilling adversary. This isn’t something that happens, however, in The Likeness.

At some point during my reading of the book, I probably should have shifted my expectations – but for some reason, I didn’t. And so I didn’t find it a very satisfying read.

I should have read The Likeness as a work of general fiction that uses a mystery as a device to bring readers deep into the lives of the four unusual people who are Lexie Madison’s roommates. I think it would have worked out to be a far better read for me if I’d approached it with these expectations.

So there you go. The Likeness is a well-written book featuring a cast of flawed and compelling characters. But I went into it with the wrong expectations – the mystery in The Likeness isn’t the sharp, suspenseful mystery (or mysteries, some would say) that drove the plot in In The Woods. So I wasn’t nearly as enthralled with it as I was with In The Woods, even considering that book’s somewhat unsatisfactory ending.

If you go into this book with the right expectations, though, I suspect you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

Where to buy The Likeness:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Book details: published by Viking Adult, 2008, hardcover, 480 pages

Some Saturday Ramblings

It feels like a “lost” week around here in a way. Monday was a holiday here (not that it matters much to me work-wise since I work when I have a deadline and take time off when I don’t, but there’s the not-minor matter of not having to get up with the kids in the morning as they get ready for school!)

Add to that the head cold I had for three days, which unfortunately came back yesterday and really, it feels like all I’ve done this week is loll around in the grip of cold medication that makes me drowsy.

Reading …

I did manage to get through a nice chunk of The Likeness, by Tana French. I’ve mentioned before that, for some reason, this novel hasn’t hooked me the way In The Woods did. I finally felt really engrossed at around page 189. I’m now very near the end, but (and it might just be because I’ve been under the weather) I don’t find myself racing through to see what happens. In fact, the book has sat on the coffee table, open to the page where I last left it, for the past two days.

I did much better with the audio version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I’m getting close to the end, and I just started listening earlier this week. (It generally takes me longer to listen to an audiobook because I only listen when I’m exercising, cleaning the kitchen and for an hour before bed.)

While I’ve reread the first three Harry Potter books a few times, I realized as I was listening to this one that this is my first reread of it. There were several things I’d forgotten, and one thing I was pleased to rediscover was that (tiny spoiler here, for those of you who haven’t read this one or seen the movie), unlike the movie, it wasn’t Cho who ratted everyone out. I hadn’t realized that the movie had parted ways with the book there (which goes to show how much of the book I’d forgotten by the time I saw the movie!).

Writing …

I’d meant to spend this week doing up character sketch thingies for my NaNoWriMo novel, but never lifted even a finger in that direction. I did, however, find a very handy set of free Excel worksheets right before I came down with that head cold. I’ll only be using the character worksheet, but for those of you who like to plot first, The Novel Planning Excel Workbook might come in handy (you can see all the worksheets in the novel here, but you need to go here to download it).

When I was writing NANTUCKET, I ended up taking a file folder and writing down all my secondary characters in it, because I found myself wasting a lot of time trying to remember names, especially the names of the more minor characters. I think using the character worksheet will really be helpful.

Fitness Challenge

I haven’t done that well this week with the challenge, logging in only two miles, on the day when I was feeling better. I was supposed to do another 1.5 miles yesterday, but kept postponing it, and then that head cold came back again. I really should get on the treadmill today, but I’m still feeling tired.

Ah … discipline. Nope. I don’t have it, not for fitness, anyway!

The Food Blog

Earlier this week, I posted about our Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend; I also mentioned that I was hoping my husband would start blogging at our food blog, Muse in the Kitchen, because I have been doing a terrible job of keeping it up-to-date.

The thing is, while I do love to eat, it’s Ward who’s really passionate about the cooking and the recipes. He’ll be so thrilled about discovering a new technique that creates a much better result, while I’ll be like, “okay, that’s wonderful, is it okay if we dig in now?”

So guess what? He wrote his first post at Muse in the Kitchen the same day I wrote about our Thanksgiving dinner! You can check it out here: 30-Minute Homemade Pasta.

Since that first post, he’s also written several more posts. And today he told me he’s having a great time blogging! My job with the food blog now is very much like my job in the kitchen. During prep time, I play the role of sous chef; at the blog, I do a bit of reformatting.

Life feels pretty near perfect right now …

Reading Temptations

I really hate when this happens.

The LikenessI’ve had Tana French’s The Likeness out from the library for a while now. It’s on its last renewal legs, so to speak, so I’ve got to either finish it up in the next few weeks or it has to go back to the library until I can check it out again.

I really liked French’s In The Woods (my review is here) – despite the ending – and everyone I know who’s read In The Woods tells me that The Likeness is even better. But for some reason, I’ve been having trouble getting into it. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it when I do sit down with it, because I am. But for some reason, the book hasn’t hooked me in quite that way yet.

When I was reading In The Woods, I couldn’t put the book down, and if I had to, I could think of nothing else but picking it back up again. This hasn’t happened for me yet with The Likeness. But with only a couple more weeks left for me to finish it, I will need to buckle down and make sure that it’s the book I pick up to read whenever I’m in the mood for reading.

Which will really be difficult, because I’ve got some very interesting books that are calling to me right now. No, really, they are. They’re all making those funny squeaky noises, the ones that my booklover’s discerning ears can hear all too clearly. And those voices are saying, “Pick me up! I’m the one you should be reading right now. Pick me up! I’m so interesting. You won’t regret it …”

First, there’s French Milk, by Lucy Knisley, which I talked about in my last Incoming! new book arrivals post. Since this one is in graphic novel format, it would be so easy to pick it up, because I know it will be a quick and lovely read.

Wait Until TwilightAnd then there’s Wait Until Twilight, which author Sang Pak sent to me in the summer. I read the first chapter online at Sang’s site before the book arrived, and if the book had only arrived shortly after, I would have finished it by now. The first chapter was really eerie and gothic and had me wanting more. So now I keep looking at the book and thinking, yes, I really should see what happens next.

But wait, there’s more (isn’t there always, though?). I also just picked up a whole slew of books from the library that I’d put in requests for.

Most of these books ended up on my library list because I saw it on a blog somewhere, by the way. So we know who’s to blame, don’t we?

KitchenThere’s Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; this is the product description from Amazon: “Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.” Doesn’t it sound so interesting?

We Have Always Lived in the CastleAnd then there’s Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an eerie little book that looks like a wonderfully creepy read.

This one was a rather embarrassing find – I’d quickly skimmed through a review on a blog I frequent (I can’t remember which blog it was – I really need to start jotting down where I find my reads) and for some reason I thought it was “in the style of Shirley Jackson”.

Well, I loved The Haunting of Hill House, and “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories, so I quickly chirped in the comments something about being a Shirley Jackson lover, so if this was in her style, it definitely was my kind of book. Then I hopped over to my library’s website, typed in the title, and discovered that We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t “in the style of Shirley Jackson” – it’s written by Shirley Jackson.

Sigh. Did I ever feel stupid for making that comment. (Do you ever make commenting blunders like this, by the way? Just asking. Would love some company on this one …)

The SummoningAnd after reading so many really good reviews online, I also put in a request for The Summoning a while back; it’s the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s YA paranormal series.

There was a bit of a wait for this one, but at long last, it’s my turn – but it also means this is yet another book I’ll have to read within the next few weeks, because I’m pretty sure there’s still a wait list for this one.

See my growing reading dilemma?

Little BrotherAnd it doesn’t quite stop there. When I dashed into the library to pick up my holds, I saw Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and couldn’t resist getting it after I read the synopsis:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

I know that I shouldn’t do things like this; I should be disciplined enough to be able to pop into the library to pick up an armload of holds without looking around at the shelves to see if something else will catch my eye.

But I’m not disciplined at all when it comes to books and reading.

So there you go. So many reading temptations. But yes, I’m going to finish The Likeness first. I know it’s going to be good – I’m at page 110 and those hooks are finally starting to sink into me.

At least I know it’s going to be a pretty good reading month this month, right?

What about you? Is there a book you absolutely must finish right now, for whatever reason? Are you oh, so tempted by other books like I am, or do you possess the iron will and discipline that I lack?

Saturday Thoughts

I haven’t done a Saturday “this is what’s going on with me” post for ages, so I figured it was about time. And after this week, I actually might be posting something like this regularly on Saturday – because starting next Saturday, I’ll have more time.

The Big List of Book Giveaways

Why will I have more time?

Tomorrow will be my last “Big List of Book Giveaways” post for The Sunday Salon. I will still be posting a giveaways list on Sundays, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to change the theme of the list and focus only on giveaways that are open worldwide. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since I read this post at J. Kaye’s book blog, where she mentions that Bookworming in the 21st Century posts Link a Contest Thursday every Thursday, and it’s so easy – if you have a giveaway, you just enter it into her Mr. Linky.

The Big List of Book Giveaways post had gotten to the point where it took up a big chunk of my Saturdays, but I’d been reluctant to give it up because it seems to be so helpful to everyone. Reading through the comments I’ve gotten, I saw that a lot of people liked the fact that I state whether a giveaway is open worldwide or not. So it makes sense to me to narrow down the focus to just international book giveaways – hopefully the list will continue to be helpful for everyone (since everyone can enter), and I get to take back some of my Saturdays!

I’m A Cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon!

I never know what I’m going to be doing on any given day until that day comes (in addition to being a moody reader, I also like to adjust my life around whatever I happen to feel like doing at the moment). So, while the idea of participating in the October Read-a-thon is so tempting, I know myself well enough to know it’s probably not a good idea.

Cheerleading, on the other hand? I can do that! So I’ve signed up to be a cheerleader for the October Read-a-thon, and am in the process of dusting off my Twitter and commenting pom poms. I will try to follow the lead of that great Read-a-thon cheerleader, Beth Fish Reads, whose impressive cheering performance during the April Read-a-thon was really what inspired me to sign up to cheer this time around.

If you’d like to participate in the Read-a-thon, or want to give cheerleading a try, just head on over to Dewey’s Read-a-thon.

100-Mile (160.1 km) Fitness Challenge

Fitness Challenge I’ve been noticing that I seem to have gotten, um, a bit more rounded, shall we say, over the past six months. With both the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts approaching, now seems like a good time to start running again.

Synchronicity struck – I was over at Amanda’s The Zen Leaf and she mentioned she was signing up for the 100-Mile Fitness Challenge. Perfect! So I’ve signed up, too, and hope this is the motivation I need to get running again. I’ve been noticing that my thighs feel sore after I go upstairs – I truly feel like I’m climbing the stairs, like they were some big huge mountain. Not to mention that out-of-breath feeling. So it really is time to do something about it.

My treadmill gives me Canadian distances, so for me, the challenge will be, roughly, 160.1 km over the next three months It turns out my treadmill gives me miles, not kilometres!. And I’m probably going to start out by walking first. I’ve got a ton of audiobooks waiting to accompany me, so my challenge posts will actually be bookish!

So, What’s Up With NANTUCKET?

I haven’t written anything about my progress with NANTUCKET because I haven’t made any progress with it since the last time I posted about it. I know – it’s a very sorry state of affairs. I still have three scenes to write, after which I can say, “I did it! It’s finished!”

You’d think it would be easy to get motivated to write those final scenes, but I have a small confession to make. NANTUCKET has always been my “practice” novel. After not having written anything for so long, I needed to show myself that I could do it. Since I wanted to use that first book to get myself back into writing, I decided to use one of my good ideas, and not one of the ideas about which I am really passionate.

And it’s worked, too. I have been able to write regularly, consistently, even when inspiration seemed far off. I have sat at the keyboard and invited my muse, rather than waiting on the sidelines for my muse to show up first (she never does, I’ve noticed).

But I haven’t felt inspired to write the ending, and worse, I haven’t been sitting down, so the muse hasn’t appeared.

I’m going to finish this manuscript though. I have to, because I’m itching to start the prep work for my NaNoWriMo novel (code name WAVERLEY), and I’m using this itch as an incentive to finish NANTUCKET. And I’m looking forward to pulling that first draft out of a drawer six weeks later and seeing how it reads, too.

So this is my long-winded way of saying, yes, I’ll be writing that “I’m Finished!” post soon.

Currently Reading

I am about a quarter of the way into Tana French’s The Likeness, and while I’ve been enjoying it, I got tempted out of the book when I picked up a copy of The Lost Art of Gratitude, the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel by Alexander McCall Smith. I haven’t been able to resist dipping into it, and I’ve quite enjoyed the handful of pages I’ve read so far.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I like the Isabel Dalhousie series so much. It’s certainly not for the mystery, because it’s definitely not the mystery that drives each of these books. I think it’s because I like how Isabel Dalhousie’s mind works, how, as a philosopher, she is always going off on these strange thought tangents all the time. She’s just so interesting, intelligent and self-aware.

I also like the fact that she’s an older woman in a stable relationship with a younger man. Many of my friends are in similar relationships, but I’ve noticed that this kind of relationship never shows up much in fiction. McCall Smith does a good job with it, I think.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you? What have you been up to this week?

Review: In the Woods, by Tana French

In the Woods

In 1984, three children walked into the woods surrounding the suburban estate they lived in; when they failed to come home, police and community came together to search for them. One of the children was found, standing paralyzed against a tree, wearing shoes that had been filled with blood. The boy is catatonic and when he finally wakes up in the hospital, he has no memory of what happened. Despite massive-scaled searches and an extensive police investigation, his two friends have never been found.

Twenty years later, that boy is now a detective on the Murder squad in Dublin; he finds himself involved in a murder case involving a 12-year-old girl whose body is found in those very same woods.

In In the Woods, Tana French entwines the story of the 20-year-old murder with this new murder; we meet both Rob Ryan, now a flawed adult, and his new partner Detective Cassie Maddox. I was pulled into the book immediately, and found it impossible to put down.

What did I love best about the book? In addition to French’s writing – and she writes very well – I enjoyed the relationship that Ryan and Maddox had with each other. There was an element of playfulness and fun that was a nice complement to the otherwise dark edges of the novel.

Which is why I enjoyed the first half of the book more than I liked the last half of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but if/once you’ve read the book, I’m pretty sure you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I did spot “the big clue” right when it surfaced, long before the detectives themselves clued in and it became the beginning of the resolution. I also had a pretty good idea who the murderer to the main mystery was, and why, long before Ryan figured it out; I didn’t know how, though, which kept me racing to the end of this book.

I was definitely a little disappointed in the ending, but I can’t really say why without giving away too much. At the same time, though, it was a realistic ending in many ways. And oddly enough, the fact that I knew who the murderer was before it was spelled out actually meant that I wasn’t totally surprised at the way things ended.

Despite my disappointment, the writing is so well done, I find myself quite able to forgive the book its ending.

I enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to reading The Likeness.

Where to buy In the Woods:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Viking/Penguin Group, 2007, hardcover, 429 pages