#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · contemporary fiction · crime · Ireland · mystery

Book Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

Title: The Ruinthe ruin small.jpg

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: February 19th 2018

Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia

Pages: 400

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Mystery

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 5 stars

Galway 1993: Young Garda Cormac Reilly is called to a scene he will never forget. Two silent, neglected children – fifteen-year-old Maude and five-year-old Jack – are waiting for him at a crumbling country house. Upstairs, their mother lies dead.

Twenty years later, a body surfaces in the icy black waters of the River Corrib. At first it looks like an open-and-shut case, but then doubt is cast on the investigation’s findings – and the integrity of the

police. Cormac is thrown back into the cold case that has haunted him his entire career – what links the two deaths, two decades apart? As he navigates his way through police politics and the ghosts of the past, Detective Reilly uncovers shocking secrets and finds himself questioning who among his colleagues he can trust.

What really did happen in that house where he first met Maude and Jack? The Ruin draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can’t – or won’t.

My review:

A tale of family, love, loyalty, protection, secrets, murder and the past all culminate to produce the highly praised debut novel from Dervla McTiernan, The Ruin.  The double meaning title attached to this novel gives it an extraordinary edge and something to set it apart from the crowd in the popular crime genre. The Ruin, meaning ‘downfall’ in English and ‘mystery’ in Irish, sets the tone just perfectly for a first class debut novel. I am proudly claiming The Ruin my favourite crime based novel of the year and I’m so pleased that this book comes from a Perth based, Irish-born new writer!

Family secrets are at the core of The Ruin. Opening with a shocking prologue set in Galway in the year 1993, McTiernan sets up her main protagonist, a young Cormac Reilly, for a situation that will forever haunt him. As a young police officer, Cormac attends to a call, initially labelled as a domestic, where he finds a dead mother and two neglected children. This case is unearthed some twenty years later when the body of a man is found in the waters of River Corrib, in Galway. With officers wanting to close this case by simply defining it as a suicide, the evidence tells a different story. With hints of corruption, politics and old secrets, Cormac must work to prove that this case is not a suicide. As he digs further and further into the case, issues of trust begin to arise. The dilapidated country house with the deceased mother and two haunted children that Cormac attended all those years ago, may hold the key to the body in the river.

I have to concur with all the positive endorsements that adorn the cover of The Ruin. This is a rare gem of a novel, a standout crime thriller novel and an amazing debut. It took a local writers festival to encourage me to dust this one off the TBR shelf and skip the mounting review pile. I am so pleased I made the decision to sneak this one in to my busy reading schedule, as it is by far my favourite crime based novel of 2018.

I was very fortunate to hear the author, Dervla McTiernan, read the prologue of The Ruin. This was a fantastic experience, this reading gave me goosebumps all over and it set the tone for what was to come in the book. The author reading also made sure I quickly became enamoured by this novel! In the days since I have finished The Ruin it has not left my side and I have spouted on to anyone who will listen about how great this book is! Anyhow, I digress, the personal author reading enabled me to get a great feel for the novel. The atmosphere drips through this novel. It is vivid, haunting, evocative and utterly compelling. Galway in particular, a locale I missed during my visit to Ireland three years ago, is richly presented. The landscape, the history, the culture, the people, the language and the politics are so genuinely put forward that I couldn’t turn my eyes away from The Ruin.

The Ruin is cleverly structured, it alternates between the shared narration of a male and female lead. There is the detective sergeant Cormac’s point of view, alternated with Aisling, the partner of the victim of the body in the river. There is a hook at the end of each chapter that ensures that you cannot, no matter how hard you try, to put this one down. The composition of the chapters is ideal, the book is carefully and astutely plotted. The writing struck me as being so refined, powerful and expressive, but not overly bogged down by too much detail. McTiernan has a less is more approach, the writing is so poised that it tells us so much in a small frame. This is hard for a debut author to achieve, but McTiernan is quite possibly in a league of her own.

McTiernan’s characterisation is faultless. She clearly knows all the folds of her characters. Cormac is well rendered, but McTiernan is careful and deliberate in withholding some aspects of Cormac for future issues of this series. However, I will say, as many have commented before me, it is a good to see a new breed of leading crime protagonists in Cormac. Cormac is straightforward, loyal, determined, enterprising and caring. He isn’t greatly damaged like many great literary detectives before him, but he still has his flaws, so we can see that he has been brushed with a good dose of reality.  I took a real liking to both the main female characters in The Ruin and I think McTiernan displayed her understanding of each of these women very well. The secondary characters are a great cast to sink your teeth into.

Dervla McTiernan ensures she stays that one step ahead of her reader in her first book. The Ruin is a restive, intelligent, gripping and haunting novel. I didn’t correctly guess the situation behind the body in the river, along with the events that preceded and followed this. I think that ultimately this is sign that The Ruin is a high level crime thriller. If an author dupes me in a clever way, I am happy!

At its heart, The Ruin has all the necessary ingredients for a classic murder mystery novel and it is executed to absolute perfection. Each new page had me enthralled. McTiernan’s prose has a genteel quality that I have rarely encountered. I was bereft when I came to the close of The Ruin, as it had consumed me so very much. However, a sneak peak of book number two (with number three in the works too) was included in my copy of The Ruin. So now I can’t wait for March 2019, for the next Cormac Reilly novel to be released.

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan was published on 19th February 2018 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The RuinDervla McTiernan visit here.

The Ruin, is book #112 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge



13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

  1. Really don’t understand why people have given this book such glowing reviews. The only part that really caught my attention was the beginning. It then went downhill from there, not sparking my interest till page 217, with only few pages left to get to the crux of the story. Very slow and tedious for most of the book and then clunky and thrown together for the last 1/4. Very disappointed. My daughter read it and agreed with me. Am I missing something?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear that Kerrie, thanks for stopping by to offer your thoughts. It was some time ago I read this one and I do read a lot of review books. I remember being very gripped from the start though. We all have different responses to books otherwise the book world wouldn’t be quite so interesting. I hope your next read was a better one 🙂


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