The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

I do love a good police thriller and I’d not heard of Dervla McTiernan when I picked up her book The Ruin. I haven’t read a police detective book in a while and as the books are set in Ireland, it sounded like it might be an interesting prospect, something different.

Dervla’s main character is a detective sergeant in the Gardaí called Cormac Reilly and this is the first book that follows his investigations in Galway. He has previously been working in Dublin and has moved ostensibly to support his partner, Emma with a career move of her own. Cormac has all the characteristics of the trusty policeman – he has a strong moral sense and an equally strong sense of duty; he wants the truth and knows when something just doesn’t feel right; he doesn’t like loose ends; he wants justice to be served.

The book begins in the past with a younger inexperienced Cormac being sent out begrudgingly to a domestic dispute. What he actually finds is a dilapidated house being occupied by a fourteen year old girl and her much younger brother, both of whom seem to be neglected and living a rather nasty existence. When Cormac goes upstairs to see the mother who the daughter says has died, he is faced with his first corpse as a policeman. The woman in the bed, Hilaria Blake, seems to have died from a heroin overdose but, in some ways more disconcerting is the way that she has been living – bed bound in her own vomit and faeces.

He removes the children from the house and escorts them to hospital, noticing that the boy has quite extensive bruising and the girl, Maude, whilst composed, also has the signs of physical abuse.

While the younger boy, Jack, is looked at by the doctors, Maude asks to go to the bathroom and is never seen again.

Back in the present day and we are introduced to Aisling, a budding surgeon and Jack, her partner and a crisis point in their relationship. When Jack goes off on his own to clear his head and think but then doesn’t come home, Aisling is not unduly worried; that is, until the police arrive at her doorstep intimating that a body has been found in the river, very likely a suicide.

What follows from this is a tense thriller, the narrative moving between the investigation that Cormac is conducting and the tensions of being the new boy in the department to Aisling and her coming to terms with the unexplainable and the arrival of Jack’s long lost sister, Maude. Maude is intent on proving that Jack has been murdered but the Gardaí just don’t seem to want to know.

I am sure that you don’t need me to point out that Jack and Maude are the same children that Cormac first encountered some years previously, now adults.

Cormac is having to earn his stripes again, the tension created by him being seen as a big city boy with his urban ways coming to an environment where things are done differently in the country causing him to tread warily and be viewed suspiciously by the others. When he is given cold cases to review, one of them being the death of Hilaria Blake all those years ago, he has to set out to prove his worth.

Only one of his colleagues, Daniel McIntyre, a fellow graduate of Templemore police college seems to show him any time but Daniel has problems of his own with a missing sister who is proving difficult to trace.

Exploring the case of Hilaria means digging into the past of Jack and Maude and what is discovered is truly reprehensible. There is also a side plot concerning a teacher who may or may not be connected to attacks on girls as well, in Ireland and abroad, and whilst Cormac feels like he is being pushed to one side within the police, he is being given the chance to show his mettle. It is all the more worthwhile in the face of the lack of support when he is able to get results.

There are twists, there are surprises, there is much nastiness, culminating in a stand-off which means that Cormac has to act and quickly in order to save an innocent person’s life. It is all quite nicely put together and the interwoven threads lead to a satisfying and shocking conclusion.

Saying that though, there was something about McTiernan’s style that meant that the narrative did not feel as smooth as I would like and despite much thought on my part, it is really difficult to put my finger on exactly what it is. Her writing is competent and the characters are brought to life with realistic dialogue and the plot was very well evolved and progressed at the right pace throughout the book. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment and I am sure that I will read more by her but something niggled me – I can only liken it to when you have something in your shoe; not a stone or anything sharp, but something has shifted or become differently moulded and for some reason, it just doesn’t feel right and despite scrutiny, you just can’t find out what it is. You can still walk and you don’t stumble or trip but it’s not as comfortable as it could be.

Regardless, there was more to enjoy than feel uncomfortable about and that means that I rattled through it at a fair old rate, keen to discover what happened, being unpleasantly surprised in the best way at the depravity of humanity and the depths to which it can sink, by the ending and also continued to read the excerpt of the subsequent book which is probably already out.

In summary, worth a read but not a keeper.

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