Book Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

First Rule: Make them like you. Second Rule: Make them need you. Third Rule: Make them pay.

From the internationally bestselling author of The Scholar and The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan's The Murder Rule is a mother daughter story—one running from a horrible truth, and the other fighting to reveal it—that twists and turns in shocking ways. Read John Valeri's review below!

American readers may not be familiar with the name Dervla McTiernan—but that’s about to change. A #1 internationally bestselling author, Dervla—a former lawyer born in Ireland who now makes her home in Australia—has written three novels in the Cormac Reilly series (The Ruin, The Scholar, and The Good Turn) as well as the Audible Original novella, The Sisters. This body of work has earned her multiple accolades including a Ned Kelly Award, Davitt Awards, a Barry Award, and an International Thriller Writers Award. This May, she unleashes her first full-length standalone, The Murder Rule, which is in development as a major television series at FX.

As the book opens, third-year law student, Hannah Rokeby, is in the midst of transferring from Orono, Maine—where she lives with her alcohol-dependent mother, Laura—to the University of Virginia. There, she hopes to join the school’s esteemed Innocence Project program, which is currently representing convicted killer Michael Dandridge. Despite being a newbie, Hannah manages to secure a position on his team when one of the student members is conveniently called away for a job interview. And while everybody else is working tirelessly to exonerate the client, Hannah’s primary goal is to sabotage his chance at freedom. It’s manipulation pure and simple—but what’s her motive?

As Hannah’s involvement in Dandridge’s defense deepens, so does an unexpected sense of camaraderie with the other law students, Sean and Camilla. Reinvestigating the case together—the rape and murder of Sarah Fitzhugh, eleven years prior—with the benefit of hindsight allows for new perspectives and possibilities that conflict with the official version of events. Consequently, subtle doubts begin to undermine Hannah’s presumption of Dandridge’s guilt (not to mention the wisdom of her master plan). With the raising of questions and shifting of loyalties, one thing becomes markedly clear: Hannah isn’t the only one with secrets to protect.

The narrative alternates between Hannah’s present-day exploits and entries from her mother’s journal, which she discovered at the age of fourteen; the latter—which spurred Hannah’s eventual involvement in the Innocence Project—chronicles Laura’s star-crossed summer romance with a wealthy collegiate (during which Hannah was conceived) and the circumstances surrounding his death. But the more Hannah learns, the less her mother’s story seems to withstand scrutiny. As Hannah endeavors to reconcile what she believes to be true with what the evidence is telling her, past and present collide to jaw-dropping (if occasionally implausible) effect—and the ramifications are a matter of life and death.

The Murder Rule is a masterclass in manipulation from an author who knows just how to pull the strings without revealing her (amply skilled) hand. In Hannah, she has crafted a nuanced, and ultimately sympathetic, character who does wrong in the pursuit of (perceived) right—but who also rights wrongs when opportunities allow. This dynamism coupled with abundant plot twists, ethical ambiguities, and legal loopholes all conspire to make a cunning and compulsively readable story in which justice is in the eye of the beholder. But of one thing you can be certain: Dervla McTiernan is a name to know, and to remember.

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