Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
The Murder Rule, which follows Dervla McTiernan’s previous three crime novels, is likely to enthrall her many fans. This novel is different however from The Ruin, The Scholar and The Good Turn in that it is set in Virginia, U.S.A. and winds its way convincingly through a background of American law.
It twists, turns and surprises. As it unfolds, questions are posed concerning the leading characters as to their integrity, honesty and motives. It challenges the reader’s sympathy and is a daring strategy when even the ‘heroine’ is clouded in doubt.
In law, the murder rule dictates that if someone has prior knowledge of a crime which results in death of the victim, but fails to prevent it, they are guilty of murder, even if not directly involved. This often attracts a sentence of years in prison. To prove there was ‘malice aforethought’ is difficult, as the evidence is often tenuous. Overturning a conviction when unscrupulous investigators may fabricate evidence, or coerce ‘witnesses’ or ‘suspects’ is near impossible.
This challenging set of possibilities has inspired the Innocence Project, attached to University of Virginia, which prisoners protesting innocence may apply for their case to be re-examined. The group then forensically examines each case that satisfies the necessary criteria. Led by Professor Rob Parekh, the small group consisted of three outstanding students, Camille, Sean, and Hazel, then joined by Hannah, the leading character.
She has engineered her being there by lying and an unscrupulous ploy. Suspense hovers as she treads her slippery path and the reader is gripped by tension – wondering when and how she will be exposed.
Laura, Hannah’s mother, is a shadowy presence. Supposedly on a cancer trial, she has revealed her early years in an old, incomplete diary. This adds disturbing queries as to Hannah’s motives and alternating pages from the diary with the main narrative is both enlightening and frustrating.
The case that is chosen in the book is an eleven years old murder case when Michael Dandridge was found guilty. There seems to be an undisclosed connection between him and Hannah. Does she desire revenge, or justice, or has some other reason?
His complicated case has a flimsy basis. The testimony of a traumatised seven-year-old boy and a hair are the questionable grounds.
Complex in its detail, nevertheless the novel is gripping. Constantly evolving aspects of the plot present puzzles that compel a reader to drop everything and keep reading.
If Dandridge is not guilty, who is? Events, inevitably, are cloudy after eleven years have passed.
The pace increases until finally all is revealed and the murder rule asserts itself when those who are ultimately responsible are brought to justice.
This is a cleverly plotted suspenseful novel. The legalities are clearly explained, the writing is vivid. Hannah’s visit to the prison where Dandridge is being held is chilling and starkly real. The key characters are distinctly drawn and the theme is very different from Dervla McTiernan’s previous novels but is as deftly handled.
The Murder Rule is outstanding among the many thrillers published each year.
The Murder Rule
by Dervla McTiernan
ISBN 978 146076 012 3