Book review: The Murder Rule, Dervla McTiernan

Another impressive psychological thriller by one of Australia's most talented crime writers.

Bestselling Perth-based author Dervla McTiernan returns to print with a second standalone novel, building upon the reputation she initially secured with her highly successful trilogy of Irish police procedurals, The Rúin (2018), The Scholar (2019), and The Good Turn (2020).

The Murder Rule doesn’t draw upon its author’s Irish roots, but rather upon her time as a lawyer, centring on a young, female law student who volunteers to spend her summer working as an intern for a US legal team who are trying to get an innocent man released from death row.

Hannah Rockeby has given up everything to work for the Innocence Project, including her promising legal studies, not to mention her chance to nurse her mother through a life-changing illness. But is she really the selfless advocate she portrays herself as?

Her mother’s story unfolds in parallel to Hannah’s, and proves integral to the plot of the novel. It soon becomes obvious that, some 20 years earlier, Laura Rockeby had an affair that ended in the murder of Hannah’s father, and she and Hannah are now set, to varying degrees, upon revenge.

McTiernan uses her own legal background to great effect as this mother-and-daughter story unfolds: the mother running from a truth that has scarred her for most of her adult life, and her daughter fighting not only to reveal it, but to have revenge for both of them in the process. Laura’s diary entries, entrusted to Hannah, and revealed sequentially as the story plays out, sit comfortably alongside chapters explaining how her daughter plans to enact that revenge, and revealing in the process a complex and tangled plot, populated with thoroughly believable characters, and more than enough twists and turns to keep even the most experienced mystery aficionado guessing.

Read: Book review: Bad Art Mother, Edwina Preston

Oddly, Laura, an alcoholic, hugely demanding of her daughter, and almost smothering in her possessiveness, emerges as the more likeable of this vigilante pairing, with Hannah coming across as both pushy and manipulative. There is no doubt that she is extremely good at what she is doing, however, and she will journey alongside the reader in a quest, not only for justice, and not purely for vengeance, but ultimately a search for self-knowledge, and for an elusive inner peace.

Two things will swiftly become clear to the reader a couple of chapters into The Murder Rule. The first is that no one is entirely innocent or blameless in this tale, with each character having his or her own buried secrets waiting to be teased and coaxed into the light. The second is that McTiernan has produced another stunning psychological thriller that can only serve to reinforce her position as one of Australia’s most talented modern crime writers. While many of her loyal fans are doubtless waiting for a return to Galway and the police procedurals of Garda Detective Cormac Reilly, McTiernan has more than justified that wait by producing what is unquestionably a riveting good read.

The Murder Rule
by Dervla McTiernan

Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9781460760123
Format: Paperback 
Pages: 304 pp
Publication Date: 4 May 2022
RRP: $32.99

Craig Buchanan is a freelance reviewer and self-professed bookaholic based in Perth.  He has a PhD in literature from the University of Western Australia, and reading interests (both academic and personal) that range from the earliest forms of medieval story telling right up to the present, techno-centric offerings of the 21st century.  His mother always said he should play outside more, but he was too engrossed to listen then, and he’s too old to change now.