If the name Dervla McTiernan is not familiar to you, hopefully that is all about to change. With the release of her fifth novel—the stand-alone, What Happened to Nina?—McTiernan should be on the threshold of breakthrough status. Many would agree that What Happened to Nina? Is her best book yet, but this is not to diminish the great work that has come before it. Both The Ruin trilogy and The Murder Rule heralded a great talent and of course, Dervla McTiernan is only just getting started—but for those looking to be “in the know” for what will likely be one of the most talked about books of the year, pick up What Happened to Nina? immediately.

Despite the fact that I am about to write a review of What Happened to Nina?, this is the type of book that is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. With that in mind, this review will not examine the plot beyond what readers will learn from the cover copy.

When a young couple—Nina and Simon—go out for a hiking weekend, no one expects that only Simon will return. Where is Nina? This is the type of case that becomes prime fodder for internet sleuths and social media scrutiny. Dervla McTiernan hyper-focuses on this tragic situation, not needing subplots or crazy twists to keep the reader’s interest. Over a one week time-span, readers are fully immersed in the drama unfolding.

At its core, What Happened to Nina? is an intense look at two sets of parents—on opposite sides of the same case—faced with the worst possible situations. Nina’s parents want to know where their daughter is, even as they fear that the answer will be more horrific than the unknowing. As the boyfriend and last to see Nina, Simon gets all the blame. For his parents, it’s horrific to watch as Simon is vilified and they are left to worry that the stress will be too much for their boy. The fact that Dervla McTiernan elicits empathy for all those involved is testament to her talents. Reader’s loyalties will shift like the wind with everyone’s goal being to figure out what happened to Nina.

The success of What Happened to Nina? relies on several factors. Both sets of parents are characters readers will be able to relate to. Nina and Simon—the two directly involved—are complex and fascinating characters. The structure of the novel keeps the tensions high and the pages turning. But perhaps most important is the way the Dervla McTiernan allows the reader to know more than the characters. Told mostly using the four different points of view of the parents, readers quickly understand that each one knows different things and they are not always sharing their information with each other. But the reader knows it all! This dynamic puts the reader ahead of everyone else involved and creates a unique literary experience.

There is also another point of view—that of Detective Matthew Wright—that provides the official information needed as the investigation proceeds. And, as alluded to above, readers are privy to the thoughts, feelings, opinions, and speculation from the public (via message board posts, personal interactions, and tips given to the police.

All of this adds up to one of the most compelling and gripping reads of the year. Once What Happened to Nina? is begun, most readers will find themselves thinking about it constantly—not in the way we think about books, but in the way we think about true crime cases. Nina’s disappearance leaps off the page and embeds itself into the reader’s psyche. And once the truth is known and the final pages are turned, readers will never stop thinking about this masterpiece from Dervla McTiernan. What Happened to Nina? is like a modern Greek Tragedy in which there are no winners.

BUY LINKS: What Happened to Nina? by Dervla McTiernan

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.