Readers can take an international journey with crime novelist Dervla McTiernan. The author is based in Australia and after three novels in her critically-acclaimed Cormac Reilly series – which takes place in Ireland – she now turns her pen to a standalone suspense thriller set in the United States. The Murder Rule is poised to catapult Dervla McTiernan from cult favorite to crime fiction royalty.
Fans of Dervla McTiernan already know that her novels rarely proceed along an expected trajectory, but with The Murder Rule, she streamlines the story to pinpoint precision without sacrificing either the depth of characterization she has become known for or those surprising developments which shock and delight her audience.
The plot of The Murder Rule sounds simple enough: Law student Hannah Rokeby applies and is accepted to work for the Innocence Project – an organization dedicated to freeing those individuals who have been incorrectly incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. Despite being the newest member of the team, Hannah manages to get herself assigned to a high-profile death row case, where instead of helping to prove the man innocent, she is hell-bent on making sure justice is served. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, Hannah is sabotaging their innocence claims at every step of the process. But why?
This premise allows Dervla McTiernan to explore a host of complex themes with fervor. First amongst them is the price of vengeance. Interwoven with that are topics like guilt, rehabilitation, morality, complicity, and compassion. The case that the Innocence Project has taken on – involving a man named Michael who is accused of rape and murder – is fascinatingly complex and following along as this team attempts to uncover the truth is incredibly addictive.
Readers journey along with Hannah as she learns more and more about this convoluted case. As the trial looms, readers watch from the sidelines as Hannah manages to thwart every new defense strategy her team conceives of. Structurally, The Murder Rule is told in alternating chapters with every other chapter being a diary entry from 1994, where Hannah’s mother Laura recounts her experiences as a housecleaner for Maine’s ultra-rich society folk. Within those diary pages resides Hannah’s motive for her actions, but does she know the entire story?
Reader loyalty will remain in flux throughout The Murder Rule. It quickly becomes clear that everyone has a stake in this game – and no one is completely innocent. The novel becomes increasingly emotionally-charged as each new development in this case is revealed, leading to a climax that is both thrilling and gut-wrenching in equal measures.
The Murder Rule is Dervla McTiernan’s first standalone novel, but readers will hope that it is not her last. The freedom to put her characters through the hell without any guarantees of who will make it out alive certainly inspired this author to work at the top of her game. Expect to see Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule many Best Of lists for 2022.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.