THE MURDER RULE By Dervla McTiernan (Harper Collins)
Dervla McTiernan’s first three award winning novels about Irish police detective DS Cormac Reilly marked her out as a leading writer of international crime fiction who can be relied upon to produce a highly entertaining story.
Now with her fourth novel, The Murder Rule (Harper Collins, 4 May 2022), Dervla takes a break from Ireland and Cormac Reilly, and heads to America with a cleverly plotted, standalone thriller.
The Murder Rule follows law student Hannah Rokeby who inveigles her way onto the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia, a group dedicated to helping convicted criminals overturn their sentences. Most of the effort of the Innocence Project is currently directed towards the case of Michael Dandridge, who has been on death row for eleven years for the rape and murder of a young mother in Virginia. The head of the Innocence Project, Professor Robert Parekh, is convinced that Dandridge’s conviction is based on dodgy evidence and an illegally obtained forced confession. Parekh and the other members of the team also believe that Hannah is an idealist like them who wants to see Dandridge freed, but in fact Hannah is not there to save Dandridge, but to make sure that he never gets out.
It is an intriguing premise and Dervla quickly puts the basic strands of her story in place. As Hannah manoeuvres her way onto the Innocence Project, extracts from Laura’s diary (Hannah’s mother) from twenty five years before gradually explain why she is so determined to keep Dandridge in jail. The story quickly unfolds on two fronts, with Hannah helping to chase down leads that may prove Dandridge’s innocence, while simultaneously working to undermine the case. Meanwhile in the background, the diary extracts reveal another sad tale that still resonates twenty five years later.
The plot ticks over with clockwork precision and the story moves along at steady rate, with a quick pick up of pace in the final stanzas following a surprising act of violence. There are plenty of twists and turns and the book builds to a tense and satisfying conclusion.
The characters are nicely constructed, and although none are particularly pleasant, including Hannah, they are interesting and convincing. The background detail on court cases and the mechanics of an appeal, are smoothly woven into the story and help to ground the plot. Some of the final developments strain credibility, but not enough to detract from what is a highly absorbing read.
I miss Cormac and the atmospheric Irish settings, but The Murder Rule is a very enjoyable novel that will keep you happily turning the pages well into the night: A strong four stars out of five!
The Murder Rule is released in Australia on 4 May 2022 and in the United Kingdom on 12 May 2022 and the United States on 10 May 2022.
Thanks to the Canberra Weekly and the publishers for a copy of the book to review.
Dervla is currently visiting various places for talks and signings, including Canberra on 18 May at the ANU (6.30 pm), so check out whether she is coming to somewhere near you!