The Scholar follows the story of Cormac Reilly, former detective in the Garda Counter Terrorism Unit, now stationed in Galway and assigned to thirty year old unsolved cases. The discovery of the body of a young woman outside NUIG enables him to return to active cases again and his thirst for the intensity of the job is reignited. In a parallel plot however, there is also the Henderson case, where a man configured a carbon monoxide piping system to feed into his home with the intention of murdering his wife and children. At the heart of these plots lies biochemistry. The plot is thick with references to chemistry, to the research being done on campus, to the textbooks found in the deceased woman’s apartment, to the sinister presence of the powerful John Darcy of Darcy Therapeutics and the mysterious passkey found in the pocket of the deceased, giving access to the research facility.
The pace of the novel is steady and it builds momentum consistently. The viewpoint alternates, allowing the reader to gain insight into the motivations of each central character and therefore keep the reader in the dark as to whom the finger of blame should point toward. Ordinarily, I would dislike this narrative tool but I found it extremely effective here. Crime fiction is not normally what I am drawn to but this plot gave a strong sense of humanity and perspective to the character development. Dervla McTiernan addresses the long hours worked by those in the Gardai and in crime prevention. These hours are given unquestionably, to the detriment of marriages, families and personal relationships. The difficulty is highlighted particularly, when DI Cormac Reilly is forced to consider and question his girlfriend Emma in the course of his investigations into the death of the young woman. Allowing this line of questioning is to disregard her personal difficulties and to treat her the same as any other witness. This requires an extreme competency in the art of distancing oneself from a situation and compartmentalising aspects of oneself, only to return home at the end of the day to eat dinner with that person. These issues are very real and very troublesome issues for serving members of Irish forces today and McTiernan raises some particularly valid concerns regarding the expectation on the staff to work unquestionably.
The many viewpoints meant that the plot advanced quite rapidly and the depth of the plot escalated within a small time-frame. The writing was compelling and the development of each character was a pleasant and rewarding experience for the reader. At night, the dreams become distressing, what was once a longed for place of rest becomes plagued with nightmares and disturbances. Is it guilt surfacing or repressed memories fighting for recognition and dominance…the reader is left guessing throughout.
I enjoyed the direction of the plot, it provided a new take on Irish crime and the credibility of the plot made the experience all the more compelling. Characters jockey for position throughout until the reader is left with the ending, a stunning and satisfying culmination of the promised conflict. McTiernan writes with a fresh clarity, layering and padding each character with psychological scars, giving each character motive and leaving the reader with the truly uncomfortable realisation that everyone we meet has a motive.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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