Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Secret Place by Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5)

Dublin Detective Stephen Moran was working Cold Cases and waiting for his chance at the Murder Squad when Holly MacKay walked in and handed him the clue to an unsolved murder.  The clue is a picture of 16 year old Chris Harper, who was murdered the year before.  The picture is captioned "I know who killed him" and hung on "The Secret Place", a bulletin board at the prestigious St. Kilda's girls school.  Moran recognizes this as his entree into the Murder Squad...if he plays his cards right. But that means working with the prickly Antoinette Conway: the Murder Squad outcast and the officer originally assigned to the case.  The pair have to maneuver their way through office politics, school politics, and the cliques of both St. Kilda's and the boys school of St. Colms, where Chris was a student.

Tana French's writing is  impeccable.  She adroitly captures the angsty essence of teenage girls, right down to their (slightly irritating) slang.  The girls of Holly's little gang are richly drawn and slightly magical.  There is an otherworldly element to them that adds an additional mystery-within-the-mystery.  The real "Secret Place" is the clearing where the girls meet at night and how it strengthens the powerful bonds of friendship they have formed.  The school holds secrets upon secrets, and its up to the detectives to break through the layers of deception.  I particularly like how Moran and Conway quickly identify each others strengths and use those to resolve the crime. There is a slightly manipulative feel to their handling of the case that echoes the politics, the secrets, and the ambition of everyone involved.. The class distinction between the students and the detectives is superbly drawn: the students are indifferent to it, the detectives are keenly aware.  Conway is bitter, Moran is slightly awed....initially.  Like all of French's characters, Moran has a past, and uses the present to help resolve the issues that haunt him.

Frank MacKay, the protagonist of  French's previous novel Faithful Place, plays a strong part as Holly's protective father.  He is an appealing character, and it's great to see him again, along with Holly. My sole concern with The Secret Place is that the relationship between Moran and the MacKays will be confusing for those who are reading the book as a stand alone.  For that reason, I recommend you read Faithful Place prior to reading The Secret Place.

I actually recommend all of the Dublin Murder Squad series.  I was hooked with In The Woods (as fine a piece of writing as I have seen) and my enthusiasm has not dimmed.  French is to be commended for keeping her series lyrical, fresh and mysterious.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bliss House by Laura Benedict

I had the good fortune to meet author Laura Benedict at the 2014 Southern Festival of Books.  I was so taken with her charm and easy manner that I resolved to get her book as soon as I got home.  And am I glad I did.  The perfect mood-setter for Halloween,  Bliss House is a chilling, mesmerizing read about a troubled house.   You have no idea how hard that sentence was to write without using the word "haunting".  Screw it.  It is haunting.  The house, the story, the characters.  

Rainey Adams and her daughter, Ariel are the survivors of a freak explosion that left Rainey a widow, and Ariel a very wounded half-orphan.  To help heal emotionally and physically, Rainey moves them to the old family manse in Old Gate, Virginia.  Like any creepy semi-abandoned house, the stories run rampant about murders, hauntings and strange happenings in the lovely old pile. Despite misgivings, Rainey plows ahead revamping the old place and they are soon meeting the locals.  She is concerned about Ariel, for many reasons, but the girl loves the house, and soon shows signs of healing physically.  

Unfortunately, she also shows signs of a paranormal problem.  A murder in the house leaves Rainey and Ariel vulnerable and uneasy.  As well they should be.  Not the house, nor the locals are what they seem to be.  The girls are taken under the broad and manly wing of a local contractor who, like the rest of the neighborhood, realizes that all is Not Well at Bliss House.    

I won't ruin the rest of the story, but I have to commend the author.  The characters are very sympathetic...all are wounded in one way or another, yet very believable and easy to root for.  The tension is superbly kept up right until the end...actually after the end, since we are left open for a sequel concerning the house.  Ms. Benedict has a very deft hand at keeping us spooked and curious.
I am looking forward to the next installment (please tell me it is a series!).  

Highly recommended for that Halloween read!