Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

After a brilliant trilogy of Ireland-based mysteries, Dervla McTiernan returns with The Murder Rule — a twisty legal thriller set in Richmond, Virginia, which exists somewhere between (vintage) John Grisham and Steve Cavanagh on the genre’s spectrum.

Compared to her Cormac Reilly series, The Murder Rule moves like a rocket. Opening with an email exchange between University of Maine law student Hannah Rokeby and Robert Parekh, who is responsible for the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project (a non-profit legal organisation whose mission is to exonerate individuals who have been wrongly convicted), Hannah (rather underhandedly) wrangles herself a job with the project, and a place on the team assigned to the Michael Dandridge case.

Dandridge has served more than ten years on death row for the rape and murder of Sarah Fitzhugh — nevertheless, the Innocence Project is convinced he was wrongly accused, and have been working tirelessly, against the clock, to liberate him. Hannah, however, is certain of only one thing — Dandridge is guilty. If not of this crime specifically, then another, equally heinous, as evidenced by excerpts from her mother’s diary some 25 years ago. And she’s going to do everything in her power to ruin his appeal. Of course, things are not as clear-cut as they seem: lies and half-truths pervade everything Hannah thought she had known.

While most of the action takes place outside the courtroom, there’s still time for some slick dramatic theatrics in front of a judge in the book’s final act. And just when you think The Murder Rule has reached its dramatic apex, McTiernan ends things with a powerful and fitting emotional denouement, which resonates because, by that point, the characters are fleshed, and we care as much for the mystery’s resolution as we do their well-being.

In the crowded crime genre, Dervla McTiernan made a name for herself with flash and panache, firmly establishing herself as a must-read. The legal thriller genre is equally congested — but wouldn’t you know it, McTiernan’s The Murder Rule reads like a veteran writing at the top of their game.

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