Never one to ignore a reading challenge, I decided to combine Southern Cross with Reading Ireland and read The Ruin by Irish-born but Perth-based crime writer Dervla McTiernan.
The Ruin opens with an emotionally powerful prologue set in Galway in 1993. Rookie cop Cormac Reilly has been sent to investigate a routine domestic incident in a large crumbling Georgian house, only to find a young woman, Hilaria Blake, dead of a suspected overdose and her two malnourished neglected children – Maude, aged 15 and Jack aged 5 – waiting for rescue.
Fast forward twenty years and Jack has been found dead in the River Corrib. Wanting to close the case quickly, the local police rule suicide, but Reilly, recently returned to Galway from Dublin, thinks there is more to the death than meets the eye and sets out to prove this wasn’t a suicide. As Reilly digs deeper into the case and Jack’s older sister returns from Australia, he finds his investigation thwarted by police corruption and old secrets. Yet Reilly is certain that the events of twenty years previously – in that rundown ruin of a house – are the key to solving this case.
The Ruin is an incredibly assured debut. The plot is involving and intriguing and the characterisation empathetic. Particularly strong is McTiernan’s depiction of the grief of Jack’s partner Aisling, which is handled with a sensitivity that is not always found in crime novels. The setting too is evocatively captured, becoming almost a character in itself with great colour and detail in the descriptions of the landscape and culture of the city. Galway is a city that can feel like a town, it is compact and friendly and that small-town vibe is presented as both a benefit and a curse. Everyone knows everyone’s business, which is fine if you need help, but less good if you are trying to keep secrets.
The Ruin is also cleverly structured, and alternates narrators between Aisling, Jack’s partner, and Reilly. It is a smart way to blend the personal and the procedural and as Aisling also starts to think that there might be more to Jack’s apparent suicide, the two strands dovetail nicely together and build to a tense and satisfying conclusion. McTiernan develops an intelligent, layered plot that explores issues such as child abuse, addiction, abortion and corruption without feeling heavy-handed.
The book can get a bit plot-heavy at times, there are a lot of characters to juggle and a lot of backstory to keep in mind, but much of this may well be groundwork for future novels in the series. The writing is poised and expressive and McTiernan is fully in control throughout. Reilly is a likeable lead and a good choice to hang a crime series on. Eschewing the trope of the loner alcoholic investigator, instead McTiernan presents a principled and dogged police officer, yet hints at enough darkness in his past to make him an interesting protagonist in his own right.
Overall, The Ruin is a gritty and well-paced thriller that draws the reader into the corruption and sometimes desperation of rural Ireland. It is a dark exploration of trust and betrayal which is compelling, believable and eminently readable. I look forward to making Reilly’s acquaintance again!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!