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The Murder Rule


The Murder Rule

I have to tip my hat to Dervla McTiernan. Already a household name in her native Australia, she swung a three-book deal with HarperCollins, and FX is developing a new series based on her latest effort, THE MURDER RULE. I already knew I was going to enjoy this book because it was being marketed as one of my favorite types of psychological thrillers --- a revenge novel. So I could not wait to dive into this one, which teases on the front cover that “no one is innocent in this story.”

The action is set primarily in 2019 and opens with a series of emails between Hannah Rokeby, a law student at the University of Maine, and Robert Parekh, a law professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Innocence Project. She lets him know that she is a top-notch student who is transferring to UVA as her ailing mother is moving to Virginia for a cancer trial, and she wants to join him as a volunteer on the Innocence Project. He initially balks, as you simply cannot walk on to such an assignment, but then she drops the name of a “friend” who worked there and happened to be intimately involved with him. That bit of subtle blackmail earns her a meeting, and she is able to talk her way into joining the team.

"Even though it might seem like the 'revenge' part of this novel already has been revealed, trust in Dervla McTiernan to have a few more big surprises up her sleeve that will spin the story in unpredictable directions."

Of course, McTiernan never hides the fact that Hannah has an ulterior motive. Thus readers are fully aware that this is merely step one in her plot to get on a particular case that the Innocence Project is working on.

Throughout the early part of the novel, we are privy to a series of diary entries from 1994. They are from the mind and pen of Hannah’s mother, Laura, who is not in Virginia undergoing cancer trials; she is in Maine waiting to hear the outcome of her daughter’s plot. Back in the ’90s, Laura is working at a luxury hotel where she meets a young man, Tom Spencer, for whom she begins to fall hard. While cleaning what she thinks is his room and going through his belongings, she hears someone at the door, so she hides under the bed. The individual tapes a gun under the mattress and is on the phone making all kinds of dangerous threats. It turns out not to be Tom’s room but that of his creepy friend, Mike. This begins a love triangle that will end in tragedy.

The main case with which Parekh’s team --- consisting of Camilla, Hazel and Sean --- is involved concerns Michael Dandridge, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a young woman, a crime for which he claims complete innocence. Hannah starts out at the bottom but works extremely hard on the menial tasks she’s been given. She calls away Hazel to New York City on a false job interview to suddenly open up one of the big three seats on the Dandridge case. It is no surprise that Parekh selects Hannah to replace Hazel, just as she had planned.

Hannah is an extremely aggressive member of the team, and under the guise of trying to turn up new evidence to help their client, she encourages her colleagues to go out in the field and re-question old witnesses to see if they can learn any new information that might help them. It is a lot of fun to see exactly what she will tamper with to help turn the tables in her favor.

Laura’s diary entries end abruptly with threats from Mike as her relationship with Tom grows stronger. This leads to Tom’s sudden death in what is called a drunken accident down by the jetty one night. Laura knows that Mike was involved but can’t prove anything; eventually he attacks and rapes her. She loses her job at the hotel, and with no other recourse once she learns she is pregnant, she approaches Tom’s well-to-do family to try to appeal to them for help. She walks away from that meeting alone, but much wealthier. I will let readers discover the rest, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who Mike is.

Even though it might seem like the “revenge” part of this novel already has been revealed, trust in Dervla McTiernan to have a few more big surprises up her sleeve that will spin the story in unpredictable directions. THE MURDER RULE is a clever thrill ride and a nice mix of psychological and legal thriller that will appeal to fans of both genres and ultimately satisfy them. I look forward to reading more of this talented author’s work and hope that the FX series does the source material justice.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 27, 2022

The Murder Rule
by Dervla McTiernan