Review: A Secret Place

A Secret Place by Patricia Rainsford, €15
Published January 20th, 2008, Sunday Business Post. Review by Alex Meehan.

The problem with crime fiction is that so many people think ‘hey, I can do that’ — before proceeding to do it badly. The genre is heaving with mediocrity and for every artfully constructed page turner there are scores of formulaic stories with badly drawn characters and unoriginal plots.

So it’s all the more pleasantly surprising that when one of the good ones comes along, it’s not only written by an Irish author but it’s also set in an unconventional setting with compelling characters and a great plot.

In A Secret Place, Patricia Rainsford tells the story of a trio of escaped convicts who get circumstantially caught up the murder of wealthy Limerick businessman Billy Hendrick.

Written in the form of intersecting first person letters and personal accounts, the story follows petty criminals Gina Brennan and her two friends Nathalie and Kelly as they attempt to stay ahead of the law, while Limerick Detective Rob Carlos O’Connell leads the investigation into Hendricks’ death.

Found shot dead in his Lexus with his trousers down, Hendricks has apparently been killed in an argument with a prostitute who may or may not be Gina’s friend Kelly. Either way, the girls are in trouble as they have been seen fleeing the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile Rob is also on the run from his personal life as he faces the challenge of managing his own problems as well as the investigation into the shooting. His wife is in a coma following a car accident and his own life has been turned upside down. He visits her bedside every night to watch TV and struggles horribly with the knowledge that after being unconscious for a year, it’s unlikely she will ever wake up again.

At the same time as managing the Hendricks investigation, he continues his private hunt for the driver of the car that hit his wife and the witnesses to the accident that has ruined his life.

Meanwhile Gina has to deal with the problem of finding safe houses and planning a future on the run in Spain. She unburdens herself in rambling letters to her dead brother Clint while all three girls come to terms with where their life choices have taken them. It seems that Gina and Rob have experienced similar degrees of suffering and loss and are more similar than either would like to think.

As Rob leads the investigation, a cynical view of Limerick society emerges. We are introduced to Billy Hendrick’s wife and children as well as his ambulance-chasing solicitor brother – the scourge of Limerick’s detective unit. The families of the three runaway girls are interviewed as part of the Garda investigation and their various attitudes to their daughters – from denial to acceptance – make for an interesting contrast.

Each interview subject has a story to tell and each story helps to flesh out the book’s characters, showing them to be well drawn and revealing a variety of compelling plot twists that help keep the reader’s interest.

A Secret Place is Patricia Rainsford’s second solo novel and it’s a confident and entertaining read. It uses the conventions of the genre when it suits the plot but Rainsford isn’t afraid to chart her own course either and A Secret Place is all the richer for it.

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