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.
Say what you will about 2020, but it’s been packed with some phenomenal crime fiction and thrillers, and it was so difficult culling my list of favourites to a measly ten. In any other year, Peter Swanson’s “Rules For Perfect Murder” would feature; so too the new Rankin (“A Song for the Dark Times”), at least one of Connelly’s (“The Law of Innocence” and “Fair Warning”), and Silva’s “The Order.” But when I sat back and reflected on my year of reading, these were the ones that resonated.
When I started making this list, I had more than 40 books scrawled on a piece of paper. Getting it down to 20 books was difficult. Whittling it down to 10 was excruciating. I could actually feel it in my gut each time I crossed one out. Fact is, this list would probably be slightly different depending on the day you asked me to make it. On any other day, Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, and R.W.R. McDonald’s The Nancys — not to mention a whole host of others — might’ve made it. But ultimately I think my Top 10 fairly and evenly represents the books that I think stand above the rest this year.
A rich and compelling mystery that will hook new readers, while its subplots and provocative, sharply delineated characters will keep established fans glued to the page. Somehow, Dervla McTiernan keeps topping her own best work. Her third novel is a triumph.
Detective Cormac Reilly and Garda Peter Fisher face the possible ruin of their careers in The Good Turn. With Reilly’s team fractured by their involvement in a special task force, Fisher makes a cataclysmic error of judgement during an investigation into the abduction of a young girl. He is consequently sequestered to Roundstone, a village on the west coast of Ireland, and the place he grew up, where Fisher’s estranged father remains the top cop of his own personal fiefdom. Relegated to the wearisome duties of a small-town police officer, Fisher distracts himself by digging into a closed murder case, where the pieces don’t quite fit. Meanwhile, while Reilly attempts to clear Fisher’s name in Galway, he unearths a corrupt cabal within his own department, which threatens his own place within it.
The Good Turn features the strong writing and intelligent plotting we’ve come to expect from McTiernan; but best of all are her characters: edgy, complex, interesting to a one. Edgar and Gold Dagger-winner worthy; nailed on for one of them, surely; deserving of both. As we close on the door on Cormac Reilly — at least as the centrepiece of McTiernan’s lengthening tapestry of crime novels — it’s safe to assume DS Carrie O’Halloran will be just as endearing.
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2020
List Price: 32.99 AUD
Enjoy my definitive — wholly subjective — list of the 10 books published in 2018 that I enjoyed most.
Dervla McTiernan came out swinging with The Ruin (2018), but The Scholar is a knockout. A relentlessly paced, bombshell-laden plot combined with sharply-drawn, empathetic characters make this is the whodunit that should put McTiernan in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Denise Mina and Tana French.
Doctor Emma Sweeney’s discovery of a young female hit and run victim outside Galway University late one evening is the starting point for the second mystery featuring Detective Cormac Reilly — although it’s a slight misnomer to label this singularly as a ‘Cormac Reilly’ novel; McTiernan has concocted a brilliant ensemble cast featuring the likes of Callie O’Halloran and Peter Fisher, whose interactions and banter are a real draw. Emma Sweeney works at Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics, and her partner just so happens to be Cormac Reilly, who she calls immediately upon discovering the body, thereby compelling him to lead an investigation that otherwise would never have been assigned to him.
Even without his personal connection to the case, Reilly knows the case is going to be complicated and — worse — political when the victim is identified as Carline Darcy. As in, heir to Darcy Therapeutics Carline Darcy, whose grandfather is an incredibly influential figure, not just in Galway, but in all of Ireland. So the pressure for Reilly to close this investigation quickly, and if at all quietly, is extreme. But just as the case seems destined towards one conclusion, further evidence puts Emma Sweeney firmly in the investigator’s headlights.
McTiernan keeps every stage of the investigation clear, compelling and compulsive. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, with a vivid cast of major and minor characters, The Scholar is one hell of a read, and it’s going to take something very special indeed to deny it being my favourite crime novel of 2019. And I know, I know — I’m saying this in November 2018.
ISBN 10: 1460754220
Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
On Sale: 01/03/2019
List Price: 32.99 AUD
In Dervla McTiernan’s debut The Ruin, an elaborate plot and vivid setting serves as mere backdrop for showcasing her greater talent: creating unforgettable, emotionally textured characters, DI Cormac Reilly chief among them, and putting them through the emotional wringer. When you think of The Ruin, think fast, furiously-paced crime solving laced with social implications that are as frightening as any chase or shootout ever put to paper. McTiernan has set the pace for every other crime writer this year.
The book opens twenty years in the past when, on his first week on the job, young Garda Cormac Reilly is called to a dilapidated country house. There he finds two neglected children, fifteen-year-old Maude and five-year-old Jack. Upstairs, their mother Hilaria lies dead as a result of a heroin overdose. Jack is pushed into foster care, Maude disappears, and Reilly moves on; up the career ladder and eventually away from Galway to Dublin.
Presently Reilly is back in the town he thought he’d forgotten, assigned to working cold cases at a new police station which is populated by some suspicious characters, who are more than willing to make their resentment of him known. When Jack is discovered dead as the result of a suicide at the same time Maude returns from decades away, Reilly is encouraged to delve back into the case that’s haunted him in the intervening years, tasked with finding a link between Hilaria’s death and her son’s.
This is a story of human frailties, violence and betrayal; of accepting the consequences of choices made, and managing their ripples in the future. McTiernan’s debut is assured, elegantly crafted and utterly compelling. DI Cormac Reilly’s second case can’t come soon enough.
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: Australia