Book Review: The Rúin — Dervla McTiernan

Australians are cannibals. We will claim anyone as our own if given enough ammunition. Russell Crowe? Australian. Nicole Kidman? Australian. Naomi Watts? Australian? Mel Gibson? … you can probably keep him now, America. Dervla McTiernan, an Irish expat situated in Perth since 2008 or thereabouts, has written a crime novel set entirely within Ireland. But sure, she’s ours.

In 1993, Cormac Reilly was a green policeman mistakenly sent out to the scene of an apparent drug overdose. One of her children disappeared after calling the death in, and the other, Jack, was adopted. Some twenty years later, Jack turns up dead in an apparent suicide, and Reilly is asked to reinvestigate the circumstances of Hilaria Blake’s death.

In The Ruin, which comes with a title explanation before the action kicks off, McTiernan presents a domestic drama featuring special guest stars the Gardai. Aisling and Maude, the civilians, are less interesting than their law enforcement counterparts, but are far more competent at investigating the law. The Ruin is the sort of novel that would not progress at all were it not for agitated civilians damning results, so you have to thank them, but it’s the actual procedure that engages in the end.

The various police are inconsistently presented, some referred to exclusively by first name, and others by surname. We get sequences featuring Cormac, Carrie, and Fisher. Fisher is more of a character than Carrie, and yet he receives only a surname. McTiernan has presumably read a decent amount of crime fiction, yet doesn’t quite know enough to be able to tell that a truly iconic detective character needs only one name, like Rebus or Bosch. The main point is that consistency is key, and these characters don’t get a semblance of that. 

Beyond that, Cormac is a pariah amongst his station mates, but most of them are shadowy figures excepting the one with a giant neon sign over his head that says “DODGY” — which everyone excepting Cormac is able to read. Fortunately for him, though he may be vague at his job, and deliberately withholding personal details for his sequel, he’s a workable character with room to grow.

The Ruin is an interesting enough crime debut that has done well for itself and already had a followup arranged prior to publication. There are some creaky parts and the final chapters are bogged down with so much exposition that you fear Cormac might drown in it, but as a procedural with little regard for actual procedure, The Ruin hits enough marks to satisfy — and, more importantly for the introductory novel of a detective, it’s good enough to make you want to give Cormac Reilly another spin.

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