The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

What a magnificent novel this is – the fact it’s a debut work makes it even more astonishing. It is at once, accomplished, tightly plotted, with beautifully crafted characters and a terrific setting – Galway, Ireland.

The book opens in 1993, when a young constable (Garda), Cormac Reilly is called out to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds the body of once-glamorous Hilaria Blake and, sadly, her two young children – the teenage Maude and little Jack, both of whom have clearly suffered years of neglect and abuse. It’s a case Cormac has never forgotten, especially when, after taking them to hospital at Maude’s insistence, she abandons her younger brother, never to be seen again.

The book them moves forward in time. In 2013, the reader meets a young, ambitious doctor, Aisling Conroy, on the cusp of a career move and faced with a huge personal choice. When her beloved boyfriend is found dead in the river, having committed suicide, and Cormac, newly transferred back to Galway and a DI, hears about the case, past and present collide.

As the investigation into the suicide proceeds,  the past and dark secrets let alone the lengths people are prepared to go to protect them are revealed, even people who, above all others, should be able to be trusted.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot except to say that it moves at a good, solid pace and is, at all times, plausible. Furthermore, Cormac is such a refreshing character for a plod. Filled with common sense and not one to take crap from his peers, he isn’t burdened by alcohol, nor is he a brooding loner with a string of broken relationships behind him (not that I mind those sort of cops, but they are becoming a wee bit of a cliché). Cormac is in a stable and loving relationship and, believe it or not – he actually talks to his partner and his peers about what’s bothering him! I know! I couldn’t believe it in this genre either!

The bleak Irish setting is marvellous and we move through the city and various towns with ease, guided by an expert hand.

I have to digress for a moment here and just have a bit of a rave about the quality of crime and mystery books being produced by Australian authors and publishers. From Katherine Howell, Candice Fox, Michael Robotham, to lately, Jane Harper and now Dervla McTiernan (and so many more), we are in the midst of a literary banquet and I love coming to sup at this imaginative table. Thank you.

If you enjoy crime or just an excellent read, then I cannot recommend this moody, atmospheric book with a fabulous central character and plot enough. Cannot wait for the next Cormac Reilly case.



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The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

While I have been a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, I confess the last couple haven’t quite captured me in the manner of earlier ones. The reason for this, I believe, has nothing to do with the superb writing or plot which is always of such a high standard. Rather, it was the sense of absence around the primary character and the man we’ve all grown to know and love, Inspector Thomas Lynley, the intrepid Earl himself. I recall writing one review which was akin to Missing Person’s Report, so strongly did I feel he wasn’t present – bodily, yes, but it was as if he’d lost his mojo (understandable to a degree in light of his wife’s tragic death, but it was beyond that) and common sense. Fortunately, Havers was there to compensate and that she did – pop tarts and all.

With this novel The Punishment She Deserves, I was at first worried this was going to be yet another book where the reader was deprived of Lynley. While he hovers in the background for the first third, there is a good reason for that. Havers (who is on her last legs in terms of remaining with New Scotland Yard) and Detective Chief Superintendent Ardery – Lynely’s erstwhile lover and boss as well as an alcoholic – are sent to the small, ancient town of Ludlow to investigate the apparent suicide of an MP’s son – Ian Druitt, the local Deacon – who killed himself in a police cell after his arrest on a charge of paedophilia. Regarding this as a perfect opportunity to wipe his hands of Havers once and for all, the Assistant Commissioner sends Ardery and Havers to Ludlow to insure the investigation into the death of Druitt ticked all boxes, as the MP is grumbling from on high and threatening to bring down all sorts of trouble on the force. Ardery is not only tasked with running the investigation, but seeing to it that Havers fails. Warned by Lynley what’s in store, Havers is careful to toe the line… only, it’s not exactly a line she finds, but a series of curves and ellipses which prick her instincts and tell her all is not as it seems.

When Ardery refuses to listen to Havers’ concerns, going so far as to order her to falsify information, Havers is in a bind. Turning to her boss and partner, what she doesn’t expect is for him to risk his reputation and career on her behalf. Lynley’s actions see him taking over the reins of the investigation and, as a reader, it was lovely to find him – from that moment on – both very much present and accounted for.

Sent back to Ludlow to properly investigate not only that the police involved behaved appropriately, but that the entire inquiry into the death was carried out as it should have been. Moving slowly, Lynley and Havers’ investigation centres on the close-knit town folk, the families associated with the almost saintly Ian Druitt and the tightly held secrets they all guard. Trying to discover what led Ian Druitt, a man recently awarded by the town, to commit suicide proves more difficult than either Lynley or Havers counted on – that is, until they understand the man didn’t kill himself and it appears his murder covered up more than one terrible crime…

Beautifully written, this story unfurls in a steady, nail-biting way. I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling what is an incredible novel about a crime, but also about family and how it can function (or not) in the best and worst of ways, demand of us obligations and sacrifices with so few rewards. How, despite this, we fight for our loved ones, those who share our blood, for perhaps what this promises rather than the reality. All the characters are so richly drawn that while some of their actions and reasons for them are perplexing and frustrating, you champion and/or see the root of their decisions, even if they inevitably lead to disaster. You also learn the motivation behind the lies, deceptions and oft-misplaced loyalties of family, colleagues, friends, neighbours. There were times I wondered why George spent so much time unravelling a particular family dynamic or a friendship until, as the book progressed and the plot thickened and twisted and turned inside out, I began to not only understand, but become engrossed/horrified/gratified in the ties that bind, blind and seek us to make good or poor decisions as well as deadly ones.

What I really enjoyed about this novel as well (apart from seeing Lynley and Havers together and in such fine form again), was exploring what makes Isabelle Ardery tick. I have found her character such a struggle in the past. I never understood Lynley’s attraction to her and what ultimately drew him to sleep with her, nor the respect and position of authority she was given – her rank didn’t fit the persona we were presented with. I thought after the last book we were well rid of her and was grateful. This isn’t the case. Yet, Ardery’s incentives, her demons, her personal life are all explored and given depth and insights that make you not necessarily like the woman (she is her own worst enemy in that regard and hey, she has it in for Havers and no-one but no-one is allowed to give Barbara an undeserved hard time), but come to understand and even, dare I say, empathise with her and the stupid, reckless decisions she’s made and continues to make as well. George is a master when it comes to untangling the seamier side of human nature, exploring the darkness within and how we’re slaves to this even while we try to resist. She’s proven this over and over in her books and this one is no exception.

A rather long book, I nevertheless didn’t want it to end. Masterful, compelling, tightly and expertly plotted with bursts of humour, all expressed with exquisite prose, this is George at her best – Lynley and Havers too. My only disappointment is that I know I will have a long wait until the next one!

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is a booThe Ocean at the End of the Lanek like no other I have read in that it taps into something wonderful, dark and primal and managed to transport me back to both the magic and terror of childhood, a time of possibilities and when dreams and nightmares really did come true.

Finding himself back at his childhood home after attending a funeral, a middle-aged man (who is never named) recalls events that happened during his childhood – how the peace and joy of his life on the farmstead was shattered when a visitor to his house commits suicide in the family car. This act releases a darkness that threatens the young boy and his family, a darkness that his mother, father and sister seem unable or unwilling to see let alone confront. Only the bravery and chthonic magic of the girl down the road, the amazing Lettie Hempstock, who has a pond that is an ocean in her backyard and all sorts of other wondrous things, and her mother and grandmother understand and have the wherewithal to aid the boy in what becomes a life and death struggle to defeat the all-consuming and seductive powers of the darkness

Like the man remembering his childhood, the reader is transported back to ours. As the boy battles his own and some very real demons, so too we revisit and vanquish (if we’re lucky!) those that haunted our youth. What I loved about this book (and Gaiman’s work overall) is that nothing is cliched or expected. Furthermore, it’s what’s not described, but in the spaces between the words, the absences on the page and into which the reader’s imagination slips (or tumbles), that so much happens. Gaiman respects the power of our imaginations to take the story into places other writers would not dare. Thus, we fill in the gaps and the powerful but ofttimes partial descriptions with our own menacing ones. This makes the book at once eerie, wild and disturbing. Sometimes, the words and scenes howled through my mind, making we shiver and look over my shoulder. Other times, I felt warmed by its magical embrace and found great comfort – as if a warm blanket had been flung over my shoulders and a cup of something warm, sweet and strong had been placed in my hands.

There is something restorative and meaningful in peeling back the layers, in being reminded of the power of stories, of imagination, of being anchored once more to a time that while a part of us all, rarely gets dusted off and re-examined, though our childhood is what shapes us. We tend to relegate it to the attic of our minds. Stories like Gaiman’s reinstate childhood and the terrifying and wondrous interpretations children use to negotiate reality in all its great and scary glory.

Finishing the book is like awakening from a dream and I couldn’t help but grieve as I felt that the funeral the man was attending wasn’t only for a lost beloved, but a lost self. That we outgrow (or choose to ignore) the capacity to see and relate to the world through the eyes of our childhood selves is surely something that deserves mourning.

Astonishing modern fable that vividly recaptures the beauty and dread of dreams and childhood imaginings.

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Book Review: Shatter, Michael Robotham


Once again, Michael Robotham has defined what’s meant by the often loosely applied term “page-turner.” I literally could not put this book down – I was turning the pages and burning the midnight oil because I simply had to know what happened next.

Written in stark, but laden prose that beautifully captures a range of human emotions, conditions and relationships, Shatter is another in the Joseph O’Loughlin series and a triumph of the genre.

Commencing with Professor Joe being unwillingly taken from university by police to where a naked woman with the word “slut” scrawled across her torso, talking on a mobile phone, is about to jump off a bridge, our poignant, Parkinson-suffering psychologist is unable to save her. Finding the situation plays upon him, when the woman’s daughter discovers where Joe lives and implores his help, insisting her mother didn’t take her own life, Joe believes her but, just because he’s convinced this is a murder case doesn’t mean any of those with the power to investigate it do as well.

Finding himself in the unenviable situation of being drawn into the life of a young woman he wants to help and the personal conflict it creates, Joe is caught up in a terrifying and sadistic revenge that, as the body count and danger grows, threatens to tear apart not just the lives of those connected to the killer, but his own family’s as well.

Segueing between the killer’s point of view and that of Joe’s, this is a chilling narrative that also manages to portray the brutal realities of those who witness and deal with dysfunction and violence every day and the inevitable toll this takes on the self and family. The dialogue is masterful, the scenes laden with suspense and, just when you think you cannot take it anymore, humour is thrown in as well, usually in the form of his friend, ex-cop, Ruiz. The way Robotham constructs his young characters is both realistic and heart-warming.

For those who love crime and well-written thrillers, with logical, exciting plots, terrifically crafted characters and dialogue with veracity, you cannot go past Robotham.

I am already two-thirds of the way through another of his books and am utterly in awe of this man’s talent.

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