I found myself immediately immersed in ‘The Ruin’. I’m not normally a fan of prologues but this one, where Garda Cormac Reilly, new to the job and still wet behind the ears in 1993, goes to a spooky ruin of a house and finds two children alone, with their mother dead upstairs, is strongly drawn and memorable. You can see how that moment would still be fresh in Cormac Reilly’s memory when one of the children, now all grown up, is found dead.
The rest of the novel is set in 2013 and deals with the investigation into a death that is initially deemed a suicide. What gripped me was the dialogue in the first scene in the police station. It came across as real. The stink of cover-your-arse behaviour wafted off the page. I was immediately drawn to Maude and her relentless, angry but controlled questions and her refusal to be put in her place by a police officer who was going through the motions in a patronising way. In addition to the ‘something smells bad’ reaction to the investigation into the supposed suicide, there was, from the beginning, a sense of something different and intriguing in the background that I was looking forward to finding out about.
‘The Ruin’ is the first book in a series about Detective Cormac Reilly and he’s front and centre throughout the novel. I could see him clearly but what surprised me was that the more clearly I saw him, the less I liked him. It’s a sign of how engaged I was with the character that I found myself at first shocked and then curling my lip in distaste at how often and how easily Cormac Reilly lies. It seemed to be his default position. He will say whatever he finds expedient to get people, suspects, witnesses, colleagues, to tell him what he wants to know. He even lies to himself in his interior dialogue, feeding himself a story that keeps him comfortable and avoids hard truths. What I found disconcerting is that his habit of lying wasn’t presented as a flaw but as an attribute needed by any detective.
Much of the plot of ‘The Ruin’ draws upon Ireland’s unhappy history of authorities failing to protect vulnerable children from predators either because they were turning a blind eye when powerful people or institutions were implicated or because the rights of the parents and guardians were placed about the safety and welfare of the child. I thought this was well done. It managed to show the damage that was done and give an insight into how it was done without dropping into a rant or a blamefest.
I enjoyed the novel to the end but there were a couple of things that meant that what I was sure at the start would be an exceptional read, dropped my overall rating to slightly above average I felt that at times the plot exposition was getting in the way of learning more about the characters. There was too much telling and not enough dialogue, although when there was dialogue, it was well done. Perhaps to help sustain the suspense, we were never allowed inside Maude’s head but I’d still have liked to have heard more about what she had to say. Then there was the plot itself. The satisfying things about the plot were that it was more complicated than it at first appeared, the pacing of the reveals worked well to crank up the tension, and there weren’t any loose ends that I could see. The dissatisfying thing was that the plot ultimately depended on a psychopath in disguise. I found it a little far-fetched. It was made more difficult to swallow because there were so few lines of dialogue given to the psychopath. This left me feeling like I’d been briefed on the psychopath’s profile without ever meeting them.
‘The Ruin’ was a debut novel and as such, it was pretty impressive. Even so, I don’t think I’ll be reading more about Cormac Reilly.
I recommend the audiobook version of ‘The Ruin’, narrated by Aoife McMahon. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.