Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2021, Book review, crime/thriller, Dervla McTiernan, Fiction, Focus on WA writers, Harper Collins, Ireland, Publisher, Reading Projects, Setting, TBR 21

‘The Rúin’ by Dervla McTiernan

Fiction – paperback; Harper Collins; 380 pages; 2018.

Dervla McTiernan’s The Rúin is an excellent police procedural set in Galway, Ireland. This is the first in the DI Cormac Reilly series, which continues with The Scholar (published in 2019) and The Good Turn (2020).

Dead from a drug overdose

In this debut, it’s 1993 and rookie Garda Cormac Reilly is called out to a decrepit Georgian manor house where Hilaria Blake, a known alcoholic, lies dead in her bed from a heroin overdose. Her two children, 15-year-old Maude and 5-year-old Jack, show signs of neglect. The boy, in particular, is covered in unexplained bruises. There’s not much Reilly can do, except take the children to the hospital and let social services take over.

Fast forward 20 years and Reilly has left his high-flying career as a detective in Dublin and is about to take up a new post in Galway so that he can be with his partner, Emma, a successful academic.

But easing into a new police station isn’t straightforward. Someone is spreading nasty rumours about him and he’s not sure who to trust.

Complications arise when the Blake death and those two neglected children return to haunt him. Jack, now an adult, has been found dead in the River Corrib. The police claim it’s suicide, but Jack’s girlfriend, a promising young surgeon, begs to differ. Yes, the pair had argued over an unwanted pregnancy, but Aisling doesn’t believe that would be enough for Jack to want to deliberately drown himself.

When Maude returns to Ireland after having lived on a remote sheep station in Western Australia for most of her adult life, there is pressure on Reilly to interrogate her over the death of both her mother and her brother. There’s a hidden agenda going on and trying to unravel it is the nub of this complex but compelling novel, which is written with great sensitivity and humanity.

Dual narrative

The narrative, which switches between Aisling and Cormac’s point of view, moves things along at a clip and gives the reader a well rounded view of events, both past and present.

And while the characters in The Rúin are all flawed and deeply human, the two leads are “good eggs” who you want to cheer on. However, things do stray into caricature towards the end when the culprit is revealed and his behaviour escalates into over-the-top shenanigans.

And while I guessed the “solution” pretty early on, this is a well-plotted, deftly written police procedural about family secrets, police corruption, child abuse and how the past and present can collide in disturbing ways.

The Rúin has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel, the 2019 Davitt Award and the 2019 Barry Award for Best Original Paperback, and been shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards, the Irish Book Awards and the Kate O’Brien Award.

Cathy at 746 Books also enjoyed this one.

This is my 9th book for #AWW2021 and my 9th for #TBR21 in which I’m planning to read 21 books from my TBR between 1 January and 31 May 2021. I purchased it last year. I’m not sure I’m going to succeed unless I read a LOT over the next 6 weeks.

And because the author lives in Perth (where she emigrated with her family after the Global Financial Crash), this book also qualifies for my #FocusOnWesternAustralianWriters. You can find out more about this ongoing reading project here and see what books I’ve reviewed from this part of the world on my Focus on Western Australian page.

9 thoughts on “‘The Rúin’ by Dervla McTiernan”

  1. Where would you put it in relation to Tana French’s work (if you’ve read her books)? I keep seeing McTiernan’s name around and wondering if she would be good to send to my tricky literary-crime aficionados…

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    1. I’ve read a lot of French but find her problematic – her flowery/verbose prose style annoys me, but I do like the way she breaks the genre’s rules (ie. things aren’t always neatly summed up). This is much more “traditional” in the sense it’s a straightforward plot written in straightforward prose and complies with most of the rules of the genre. It’s very good – and I enjoyed it enough to want to read more of her work, which is a good sign.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My local library has her two other titles, so I’ll no doubt get around to reading them at some point. Think I need a little break from crime fiction… I’ve read a lot of it over past two months!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your crime month was lots of fun.
    Interesting that McTiernan started writing Irish crime fiction after she moved to WA. Perhaps Emma should get a job at UWA so Cormac can follow her out here.

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    1. She’s a lawyer and it sounds like her firm went bust during the GFC, hence the move to Australia. Apparently she gave herself 5 years to make a go of it as a writer. She achieved it in two years. I can see why. This book was well plotted and written and there’s an obvious intelligence at work. The Galway setting is very evocative so I’d be surprised if she moved the setting to Perth, but you never know.

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