Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: THE RUIN

THE RUIN by Dervla McTiernan (HarperCollins, 2018)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly has moved with his girlfriend to a new town and is once again a newbie in the ranks of the local police branch.  Tasked to cast a fresh eye over their cold cases, Cormac is diligently ploughing through the work but is keen to take on something more high profile.  It does niggle that he is not tackling anything current and that his new Galway colleagues aren’t that welcoming, but there is at least one friendly face in the office and Cormac knows he must prove his worth once again to a new audience. 

When presented with a case file from twenty years ago, Cormac is shocked to realize that as a young and fresh police officer, he was the Garda involved in the original callout.  Five year old Jack Blake was placed into foster care and as for the teenage sister Maude, that was the last anyone heard of her after the death of her mother.  It saddens Cormac to be told that the body recently found in the local river was that of the now twenty-five year old Jack Blake.  Jack’s doctor girlfriend Aisling is in shock over her partner’s death but soon has a new ally to stir things up – the newly returned Maude.

Twenty years ago Cormac Reilly was a fresh faced, rookie cop, who thought he had been sent to a standard domestic problem. In a rundown old house that took forever to find, what he ended up discovering comes back to haunt him all these years later. Fifteen-year-old Maud Blake and her five-year-old brother Jack are in the house with the body of their alcoholic mother, dead from an apparent overdose. After taking the children straight to hospital Reilly discovers that Jack has been the victim of abuse, while Maud vanishes into the night. Twenty years on, Reilly's moved to Galway from Dublin, put on cold cases for his sins, and handed the re-investigation of Hilaria Blake's supposed overdose when Jack seemingly suicides and Maud reappears.

Complicated story then, handled with considerable aplomb. The narrative switches between Reilly and Jack's girlfriend Aisling. Maud's unannounced return to Ireland after many years living in Australia gives Aisling a difficult but necessary ally in doubting the police's all too rapid conclusion, but Maud's presence is also the catalyst for the re-investigation of her mother's own overdose. All these layers and wheels within wheels work well, each of these characters are seamlessly and cleverly worked into the present and the past; into their shared positions of catalyst, questioner, cause and outcome. Even Reilly is provided with traces of a back-story, his return to Galway, complications in his personal life, and reasons for his colleagues to mistrust him. Done as hints and pointers, Reilly's story is part of THE RUIN but it's not everything. The balance between his story, and the story of a family of 3, now 1, and the reasons why is, rightly, the focus.

Obviously there is plenty of social history here and THE RUIN does not pull back from addressing the history of child sex abuse, the role of churches and authorities, under-resourced social workers, and good and not so good policing. This isn't a novel that goes into detail about the actual abuse, but it doesn't leave anything to the imagination when it comes to the causes, complicity, or even consequences. There are scars aplenty and not everything ends with justice being served.

THE RUIN is set in McTiernan's original country of Ireland and it's one stonkingly good debut novel. Populated by excellent characters, dripping with intrigue and menace, and heralding heaps of long and very enjoyable series potential.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Ngaio Marsh AwardsShe kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels from Australian and New Zealand authors on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction. where this review was first published.

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