Finn, an apparently trustworthy friend, is no lon-
ger a friend, their relationship undone by a single
sentence. He has misinterpreted a question she
asked about Harper, and because the truth is too
complicated to explain to him, “If they run into
each other on the street when they’re forty, Finn’s
face will get that burned look and he’ll keep
Characterization is vivid in The Secret Place. French, a former
actress who grew up on several continents, describes this element
as her passion. Rather than plot, she says, she “stays faithful to
the characters.” The stories proceed from there. The books are as
much of a surprise to her as she writes as they are to her readers.
She says she had no idea herself who killed Harper.
French never set out to be a crime writer. She remembers
beginning her writing career with one paragraph and then another, and then “wanting to see” if she could write a chapter. At
that point French says, she thought she was writing “literary
fiction blurred with mystery.” When she had finished more
chapters, a friend read them and put her in touch with Hodder
and Stoughton, which encouraged her to continue. Their interest got her an agent and a deal was eventually negotiated with
Hodder and Stoughton.
In the Woods was published as crime fiction, though French
says she wasn’t sure that it fit the category, as it had no “real
ending.” The publisher was clearly on the mark. The rest is his-
tory. The Secret Place is expected by Penguin, its U.S. publisher,
to be one of the biggest bestsellers of 2014.
Being categorized within the crime genre doesn’t bother
French, although she says that she has always read a wide range
of books and has never understood why there should be such
rigid distinctions between genres. She thinks that “spectrums”
may be of greater relevance to literature than categories.
French writes six days per week for several hours per day and
is about a third of the way through a new book (each takes
about two years to write). Hint: this time Conway is the
protagonist/narrator, which should make it a worthy follow-up
to its predecessors. ;
Sinéad O’Shea is an Irish journalist and filmmaker.