‘The Murder Rule’ by Dervla McTiernan – highly recommended

‘The Murder Rule’ is a standalone thriller that hooked me from the first page and never let go. Most of the story is told from two intercut first-person accounts: a present-day narrative from Hannah Rokeby a third-year law student at the University of Maine who lives with her often drunk single mother Laura, and the contents of her mother’s journal, covering events in the summer before Hannah was born.

From the beginning, we know that Hannah has inveigled her way onto an Innocence Project team at a university in Virginia, so she can covertly sabotage the defence they are building for a man Hannah knows to be guilty.

The focus is initially on how Hannah embeds herself in the team and gains their trust, Meanwhile, via Laura’s journal, the events that motivate Hannah’s mission are revealed in. Both accounts feel intimate and immediate and they both involve deception and betrayal.

Hannah lies constantly to everyone around her and does whatever it takes to get on to the team managing the defence that she wants to sabotage. Laura’s tale moves from one of a casual summer fling to something laced with menace and ending in violence.

Once the scene is set, the pace of the present-day story accelerates, building tension and uncertainty and adding an amount of violence that was surprising in what I’d expected to be a courtroom drama.

What I liked most about the book was the way my understanding of what was going on kept changing. I knew I was likely to be dealing with an unreliable narrator but that didn’t help me to decide how much of which narrative to believe, especially when I fell victim to my own confirmation bias. I admired Dervla McTierney’s ability to deliver that perception shift without making me feel tricked and while feeding my need to know what was going to happen next.

I enjoyed being constantly caught by surprise. I also found the main characters easy to relate to and care about, which made the story mean more than just solving a puzzle.

I recommend the audiobook version of ‘The Murder Rule’ because the story is made even more engaging by the use of different narrators for Hannah’s and Laura’s stories. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

Click on the video below to hear how the work of the Innocence Project in the US inspired Dervla McTiernan to write ‘The Murder Rule’.

Dervla McTiernan is originally from Cork. She spent twelve years working as a lawyer. Following the global financial crisis, she moved from Ireland to Australia and turned her hand to writing. 

The Ruin (2018) was the first book in her five-book Cormac Reilly series. In 2022 she published her first standalone novel, The Murder Rule

Dervla is a member of the Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers Association, and lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children.

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