Tana French's 'The Secret Place' Solidifies Why Her 'Dublin Murder Squad' Series Could Be The Next Big Adaptation
Fans of well-crafted psychological thrillers and female crime writers have likely already been entranced by Irish author Tana French and her Dublin Murder Squad series. If you haven't yet picked up her books, now's the time to start — her fifth novel, The Secret Place just hit shelves Tuesday.
French burst onto the scene in 2007 with her debut novel In The Woods, and she quickly became notable not just for her clever mysteries, but her examinations of the psychological toll murder cases wreak on loved ones, suspects, and investigators alike. Woods introduced readers to Rob Ryan, tasked with unraveling the deceptively simple murder of a young girl. The following year, The Likeness shifted focus away from Rob and thrust his partner Cassie Maddox into the spotlight. The third and fourth books continued the trend of making a secondary character the new protagonist — and now The Secret Place focuses on up-and-coming Stephen Moran, first introduced in 2010's Faithful Place, uncovering the truth behind the slaying of a young student at a posh boarding school.
With their rotating cast of strong characters, intriguing whodunnits, and edge-of-your-seat suspense, it's a wonder French's novels haven't yet been adapted to the screen. If done right, Dublin Murder Squad could be the next True Detective . . . or even better.
And here's exactly why:
It would be a different take on the anthology format
With anthology crime shows like True Detective and Fargo gaining popularity, it's the perfect time to bring French's series to television. While Detective and Fargo both tell different stories with different casts each season, Murder Squad would have a unique form: While every season would focus on different detectives solving different cases, they would all take place in and around the same city and operate out of the same squad room. Each self-contained season would be anchored by a familiar face introduced in the preceding year who's morphed from supporting player to protagonist.
This new twist on the anthology format would set Murder Squad apart from the pack. The show would have a sense of permanence that other anthologies lack, with the same central location and the same peripheral characters (like superintendent O'Kelly and medical examiner Cooper) repeating each season.
It would be the perfect balance between character piece and crime procedural
Too much focus on the case and you've got just another CSI. Too little, and you've got another turgid season two of The Killing. (Who killed Rosie Larsen? Who cares anymore?) Like Detective, the crimes in French's novels are backdrops upon which complex character portraits are displayed — but that's not to say the crimes themselves aren't fascinating. Take, for example the case in the fourth book, Broken Harbor: a family attacked in their home on an abandoned seaside estate, where baby monitors are pointed at mysterious holes in the walls and something has been terrorizing the inhabitants. Creepy stuff.
It would be an actor's dream
The characters that French has invented are so fully realized that actors would be lining up on the street for the chance to portray them. Rob Ryan, hiding the fact that he was once abducted in the same woods where a young girl has been killed; Cassie Maddox, who grows dangerously close to a case when she adopts the life of a murdered woman; Frank Mackey, who finds out too late that the love of his life didn't abandon him, but may have met a more nefarious fate; Mick Kennedy, whose past is dredged up when a family meets an unspeakable fate at the same place his own family faced hardship; and Stephen Moran, whose investigation leads him into the shocking cruelty at the heart of an outwardly respectable school.
If HBO can attract stars at the level of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson for Detective, no network should have a problem attracting similar talent for these flawed but fascinating characters (who aren't just mouthpieces for plagiarized philosophy, I might add.)
It would have dynamic female characters . . .
. . . which already gives it one up on the likes of male-centric Detective. If put to the screen, Cassie Maddox would be one of the most complex female characters on television. While she's the only female protagonist in the series so far, there's no lack of other gripping women: Rosalind, the victim's troubled sister in In The Woods; Holly, Frank's young but surprisingly perceptive daughter in Faithful Place; Dina, Scorcher's unbalanced sister in Broken Harbor; and Antoinette Conway, Moran's irascible partner in The Secret Place. (Here's hoping she becomes French's second female protagonist in Book 6.)
It would have a gorgeous, unique setting
We've had crime shows set in the southern bayou and the rainy Northwest, but America has rarely (if ever) seen a TV show set entirely in Ireland. The cinematography would be beautiful, with each season having a distinct theme, from the rolling green hills of the countryside to the grimy streets of the inner city to the windswept shores of the sea.
It would be perfect for bingeing
The length of French's books and the tempo of her writing would lend themselves perfectly to an eight- or 10-episode season. Whether unspooled over a couple short months on TV or released all at once on Netflix, Murder Squad would be a perfectly digestable size for those who like their mysteries with the minimum number of red herrings, dead ends, and needless distractions.
So far, there have been no reports of anyone buying the rights to French's series. But we like to think everyone's just waiting until she has enough books published so they don't run into a problem like HBO is currently facing with George R.R. Martin. Maybe now that her fifth book is out, we're about to see a giant bidding war over who gets the privilege of bringing French's brilliant work to the screen.