One cold, dark night in Galway, rookie policeman Cormac Reilly is feeling a bit lost as he looks for an address in a small village. The car heater’s not working, its radio in bits with wires dangling from it. Finally, he spots a house that seems in complete darkness. Inside a grim discovery awaits him: two horribly neglected children, Maude and Jack, and their mother who has died of a heroin overdose.
Twenty years later, Reilly is forced to revisit the case after Jack has died in suspicious circumstances. Could there be a link with the horrific scene that awaited him at the dilapidated farmhouse? Did he overlook something?
So begins The Ruin, a deliciously complex, though-provoking thriller written by Dervla McTiernan, an exciting new voice in crime fiction. You are hooked – and couldn’t be happier.
Cold cases are always great fun for mystery fans and Reilly’s meticulous investigation is enthralling. He’s astute, a likeable straight-shooter not easily side-tracked or fooled, nor intimidated by the macho posturing of colleagues. While contemporary Ireland is in the foreground of this compelling story, The Ruin is haunted by ghosts of the past, especially the role of the Church and its power. ‘A story of why good people do bad things,’ says the author.
Amateur sleuths who enjoy the hunt and like to pride themselves on solving mysteries, will love the multi-layered plot and series of slow ‘reveals’ that bring the truth tantalisingly closer. Reilly is like an archaeologist, digging down through the lies to expose long-buried secrets.
But the pleasures of reading The Ruin – and make no mistake, this is a five-star thriller – does not just lie in its web of lies and deceit, but in its rich use of language and excellent rendering of characters. McTiernan makes it look deceptively easy to conjure people with histories and inner lives, self-doubts and passions. Like the plot, they’re complex and endlessly fascinating.
Gritty issues of trust and betrayal and the ineptness of authorities to deal with troubled families also play their part in The Ruin. Reilly, who’s moved back to Galway from Dublin to give his partner a chance to pursue her career (big tick), has been around long enough to know only too well that lives can be wrecked by well-meaning but imperfect systems, but that getting emotional about it is no answer. ‘It didn’t make you a better cop. It clouded your judgement…’
Two striking female characters women help bind us to the story. They are united by their love for Jack, but couldn’t be more different: One a tough go-getter, determined to find the murderer at all costs. The other, nowhere near as bolshie, shell-shocked and grief-stricken after Jack’s the sudden death.
Like any good thriller worth reading, the twists in The Ruin are terrific, not one a bridge too far. And there’s a fantastic finale, exciting, and deeply satisfying. The only disappointment is that the experience of sharing your days and nights immersed in The Ruin is over.
The good, no, great news, is that McTiernan has already written the second book, so Reilly will be back with another cracking case.
We can’t wait.