Dervla McTiernan’s The Ruin seemingly dropped out of nowhere to garner critical acclaim, award nominations, and countless fans, but the release this week of the follow-up, The Scholar, confirms that this was not an anomalous fluke. Dervla McTiernan is a storyteller to her core and her journey with crime fiction is only just beginning.
The Ruin was a self-contained mystery that satisfied on every level, but one of the elements that was hinted at yet not fully explored was the unique relationship between Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly and his girlfriend, Emma Sweeney. Fans will be excited to know that Emma plays an integral role in The Scholar and thus, the dynamic between these two complex characters takes center stage.
Talk about ratcheting up the dramatic tension, Dervla McTiernan wastes no time in putting Cormac into a very difficult situation. When Emma discovers a body in the parking area outside the R&D lab where she works – seemingly the victim of a hit and run accident – her first call is to her boyfriend, Cormac. While common sense would predicate that he should pass this case along to a colleague, the revelation that the victim is Carline Darcy – of the legendary Darcy Therapeutics family – the media coverage and high-profile nature of the investigation are too important to Cormac’s career trajectory for him to step down.
It is this decision that fuels much of the character development that follows. As Cormac digs deeper into this current case, readers are given important insight into the history shared by he and Emma. And what a history it is! As evidence continues to put the focus on Emma, Cormac begins to wonder if he is too intimately involved to accurately access what happened that evening and exactly what Emma’s involvement might be.
While The Ruin intricately wove Irish history into the mystery at hand, with The Scholar, Dervla McTiernan explores some very timely and important crises that are plaguing modern society. First and foremost she examines the uncontrolled power wielded by the pharmaceutical industry, but there is also exploration of academia, research (and its funding), the entitlement of the wealthy, and various other issues that are currently relevant.
The Scholar, like The Ruin, is a book that rewards immersion. This is not an edge-of-your-seat reading experience, but in many ways that helps to elevate its impact. Dervla McTiernan crafts characters readers grow to truly care about, providing motivation to become invested in even the simplest of challenges within their lives. Juxtaposing those more mundane factors with the larger implications of the overarching mystery makes the The Scholar feel fresh and vital in the current canon of crime fiction. Dervla McTiernan remains a writer to watch.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.