THE SCHOLAR by Dervla McTiernan (Harper Collins, $A32.99)
I thought that The Rúin by Australian based author Dervla McTiernan was a highlight of 2018 and was certainly one of the best debut novels of the year. It has also recently been nominated for a Barry Award for Best Paperback Original.
Set in Galway, Ireland it was a clever, emotionally charged and gripping police detective novel that offered plenty of twists and turns and sharp societal insight. It also featured a very engaging lead character in the form of DS Cormac Reilly, who had returned to Galway after a high-flying career in Dublin to be with his partner, Dr Emma Sweeney, who had taken up an important role at the University. Shunned by his colleagues, he is given cold cases to investigate, including one that relates to a recent possible suicide. This investigation and Reilly’s first case as an young constable in Galway form the core of the book.
The Scholar is set shortly after the events of The Rúin and shows no signs of second book nerves. Late one night outside her laboratory at Galway University, Emma stumbles across the body of a hit and run victim. The young woman has severe facial injuries which hamper identification, but she has a security card which identifies her as Carline Darcy, a gifted student and grand daughter of the founder of the Irish pharmaceutical giant, Darcy Therapeutics. Reilly arrives first on scene and takes charge of the investigation. The case quickly takes some unexpected twists and Reilly finds himself battling against his own superiors and the might of Darcy Therapeutics, as he tries to find the killer. He also must overcome the mounting evidence that Emma is somehow involved in the death.
This is a first-class detective novel that proves that Dervla McTiernan is no ‘one hit wonder’. The story opens well and Dervla’s engaging style keeps it ticking over nicely as the main elements of the plot are established and the book smoothly moves through a couple of unexpected twists. The pace picks up in the second half and the final chapters are very tense. Dervla is a very clear and lucid writer and she creates characters that the reader comes to care about. She studied and lived in Galway and her descriptions of the town are simple, but evocative, and the plotting contains the sort of surprises and convincing police detail that one expects in a good crime novel. Some minor plotting flaws stop it from being as good as The Rúin, but overall this is a superior crime novel that will have some of Britain’s leading crime writers looking nervously over their shoulders.
I would give it 4 ½ stars out of five.
Note: The Scholar is being released in Australia on 18 February and in Britain on 7 March and the USA on 1 June.