• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller

By Emmet James Driver

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DI Cormac Reilly returns in Dervla McTiernan’s much anticipated sequel to last year’s The Ruin.

In her first novel, McTiernan did something which a lot of modern crime fiction tries desperately to do, it made us feel something. The tragic story of a young man’s suicide, and his family’s desperate need to get to the truth; exposed the main character of Cormac Reilly to a myriad of emotions that we were allowed into. If the purpose of The Ruin was to make us feel, the purpose of her new book The Scholar is to make us engage.

The sterling quality of Irish crime fiction within the last few years has set the bar very high for what we expect from our authors, and McTiernan’s fresh voice finds its place neatly among the powerhouses of Irish crime writers.

DI Cormac Reilly was a leading detective working in counter terrorism in Dublin, until his girlfriend took a job as head researcher based in Galway IT, and he finds himself back in the humdrum of Co. Galway, where his career originally began, and a large step back from the fast paced action of the Gardai’s Counter Terrorism Unit.

The Scholar finds Cormac still dealing with the consequences of his unauthorised investigation in the previous book, as well the career damning effects the conclusion nearly had. Marginalised by his colleagues, Cormac forces himself to the top of an investigation when a hit-and-run a GMIT leaves his own girlfriend implicated as a suspect. Despite Cormac’s own by-the-book instincts he finds himself bending rules and putting the investigation at risk, clearly showing he has not overcome the emotional trauma left behind form the story of The Ruin.

McTiernan once more uses POVs from the suspects themselves to lead us down a path that keeps the reader guessing as to what is really going on, and who is truly behind it all. Cormac makes no friends during this investigation, and the closer it gets to home, the more he leaves himself and his career open to destruction. In The Ruin we learned how far he was willing to go for justice, but now Cormac must ask himself which is more important; justice or the people you care most about?

And as the cracks in his own self-righteousness appear, his colleagues begin to peer into the gaps, and Cormac isn’t ready for what they will find there. It is the story of truth versus gain, for most of those involved the gain is financial, but for Cormac its personal. Will he sacrifice everything he’s worked for to do what is right?

What McTiernan does well is capture, in a truly honest way, the morale dilemmas that are often involved in law enforcement.  Not just in Cormac, but also in the other members of his team. We see her continues to explore the concept of the Police being real people, not just physical representations of the laws of a state. And the effect that lives such as theirs can have on them and their families.

While there is lots in there for new readers, fans of The Ruin will be rewarded by answers to some of the questions we had regarding Cormac’s own past, and his true reasons for coming to Galway.

The Scholar is great crime fiction, with a true heart, that will leave you struggling to put the book down.

(c) Emmet James Driver

Order your copy online here.

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