The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

A question of guilt…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Young law student Hannah Rokeby is desperate to get taken on by the Innocence Project, a group run by charismatic attorney Rob Parekh to fight to free prisoners they believe have been wrongly convicted. Places on the project are coveted by students, since it looks good on a new lawyer’s CV. But Hannah has deeper reasons for wanting to be part of it – personal reasons. The Project is trying to free Michael Dandridge, convicted of rape and murder, but long ago Hannah’s mother was a victim of Dandridge too and Hannah feels she must ensure Dandridge stays in prison for the sake of her mother’s mental health. So she tricks her way in, but then slowly begins to discover there may be things about Dandridge’s past that don’t quite fit with what she believes…

Written in the third person past tense, we see the story unfold from Hannah’s perspective so that we know what she knows – no more and no less. In the beginning, mostly what she knows comes from an old diary her mom kept back when she knew Dandridge and his friend Tom. This diary is given to the reader in short chapters between the present day story of Hannah settling in at the project. Happily, though, McTiernan is not playing the overused “that day” game – we know pretty quickly what happened to cause Hannah’s mother to fear Dandridge for all these years, and that lets us sympathise to some extent with the lies and tricks Hannah plays to get on the project, although some of them are rather cruel and make her hard to like.

Dervla McTiernan

It’s very well written and keeps up a good pace, avoiding any mid-book flab. In fact it comes in at under 300 pages, so quite short for a contemporary crime novel, but I felt it’s the perfect length for the story. It held my interest throughout and kept me turning the pages, so a successful read from the sheer enjoyability aspect. However, my credibility meter went into the red zone at a fairly early point and by the end was screeching out overload signals. The final courtroom scene was almost farcical – any last remnants of believability disappeared into the distance, never to be seen again. I don’t want to go into the plot in any detail, since it has so many twists and turns it would be hard to avoid spoilers. But oddly, it isn’t the basic plot that has the credibility issues – all of that I could believe reasonably easily. It’s the silly way it’s played out, with unnecessary drama, people being beaten to a pulp one day and then being back to being action-man the next day, Hannah brilliantly spotting things missed by all the qualified lawyers, the evil pantomime baddies, the aforesaid courtroom scene. I felt that had McTiernan written it as a straight mystery it could have been excellent, but trying to turn it into a thriller simply took it far too far from any sense of realism.

So although I enjoyed reading it for the most part, I was left with a slight feeling of disappointment that it could have been so much better than it was. However, I believe this is something of a departure for McTiernan, and I certainly enjoyed it enough to try another of her books to see if her usual style works better for me. Meantime, if you enjoy a fast-paced mystery/thriller and aren’t as picky about credibility issues as I am, this is a well-written and entertaining read.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Amazon UK Link

33 thoughts on “The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

    • Yes, it definitely kept me turning the pages even though I was having difficulty believing a lot of it! But I’m looking forward to reading her more traditional style police procedurals – she definitely has talent. 🙂

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    • Credibility is an issue in so much crime fiction, and a lot of it depends on whether the writing is good enough to keep you turning the pages even while you’re raising a quizzical eyebrow or two. This one certainly kept me turning the pages!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve been wanting to read McTiernan’s work, FIctionFan, and this does sound like an absorbing story. I actually like the fact that the main character isn’t entirely likeable. I can see why, under the circumstances, someone might behave the way she does. On the other hand, my disbelief and I are good friends, and ordinarily, I do not like to part with it when I’m reading. I may try this one, but I wonder if something else she’s done plays out in perhaps a more realistic way?

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    • Yes, I thought this might be a good one to start with because it’s a standalone, but in retrospect and looking at other reviews I suspect her other novels would work better for me. Not that I didn’t enjoy this one – I did! It certainly kept me turning the pages even as my quizzical eyebrow was getting a workout. But I felt the mystery aspects of it were considerably more successful then her attempts to turn it into an action thriller.

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    • Haha, yes, I do feel that courtroom scenes have to have a certain level of credibility at least! But I enjoyed it nevertheless – it certainly kept me turning the pages! 🙂

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  2. I’ve read two of McTiernan’s books, the first two and liked them. I’ve had this one in mind, but I had not yet read any reviews. I’ll keep what you said in mind and likely get to it at some point this year. Wonder if she will go back to her previous characters after this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was my first, and in retrospect and looking at other reviews, I suspect I would probably have done better with her other books, which sound more like police procedurals. I thought the mystery element of this worked well, but the attempt to turn it into an action thriller is where it fell out of my credibility comfort zone! But I’m looking forward to reading some of her other stuff, and if you do decide to read this one I hope you enjoy it – despite my criticisms, it certainly kept me turning the pages!

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  3. Not an author I’ve read and I’m not especially tempted. But considering my TBR, that’s not a bad thing. And before you express disappointment that you couldn’t tempt me with this, keep in mind you’re directly responsible for a lot of my current TBR! 😉

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  4. I don’t believe I’ve ever read this author.If I run across another of her books, perhaps I’ll give it a go, but it doesn’t sound like I should start with this one. I do like it best when I’m not asked to put aside ALL semblance of credulity!

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    • I think she’s still fairly new on the scene, maybe only three or four books so far. But I think from looking at other reviews I’d probably have been better in retrospect to start with her series rather than this standalone – her other books look more like police procedurals, and it was really the attempt to turn this one into an action thriller that I felt didn’t quite work. I still found it very readable though – those pages still kept turning! 🙂

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    • Yeah, I frequently get fed up with people in thrillers who get knocked unconscious with concussion, two broken ribs and a sprained ankle, and next day they can battle five strapping villains with guns and win! 😉 But I did enjoy it despite that – the pages kept turning!

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  5. I had the same issue refarding this book. It was definitely farcical at times tbh. The behaviour of certain characters was just not plausible. A stretch too far methinks. I have no issue with the writing but that plot….

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    • I’m glad it wasn’t just me – sometimes I think I’m too picky. But there were a couple of scenes that I felt went far too far, and especially that last courtroom scene! I’d still like to try one of her police procedurals though.

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  6. There are definitely elements of interest in this story for me and I may read it eventually. However, I think I’ll start my McTiernan reading with the Cormac Reilly series. Thanks for the introduction to this author!

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    • I wish I had started with her police procedurals – reviews suggest that she sticks more to feasibility in them. But I do think that she is a good writer, so hopefully we will both enjoy the Cormac Reilly series when we get to it!

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    • I do too. Even in a thriller, I expect things to be possible even if they’re unlikely. As soon as the author goes too far, I stop being able to get really immersed in the story because I just can’t believe it anymore.

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  7. Love the idea of this being under 300 pages – yes!!! And your review actually touched upon something I just realized – lots of books seem to be morphing themselves into thrillers, when being a simple mystery without the ridiculous twists and suspense would make them much stronger. Because what’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller? Really just the way it’s told, and the pressure on the main characters…

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