Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule is a dark, disturbing and twisting thriller. Touching upon real life organizations such as the Innocence Project, this volume deals with the difficulties of investigation in an unusual manner and quickly draws in the reader. Based loosely upon an actual case tied to Michigan, this volume revises the setting and adds unusual layers of intrigue for real or fictitious crime stories.
Hannah Rokeby is a student working towards placement in the Innocence Project, because they are working on a case that interests her. Specifically, Hannah wants the man who murdered her biological father to pay, and sabotaging his defense from the inside seems to her the best way to do it. She has to move quickly, because his conviction has been overturned and a new trial is fast approaching. As she and her colleagues travel and meet with witnesses and attempt to gather evidence, Hanna finds herself hiding what she thinks is the truth even as mountains of new facts come to light. Meanwhile her co-workers continually find new problems and complications standing in their way, and cannot help but question the source of these issues.
The narrative switches between Hannah in the present and diary entries made by her mother (Laura) in the past. The structure is well chosen, partly because it helps to set up later twists in such a way as to build reader expectation towards certain conclusions.
Sexual assault and police abuse are both major parts of this book, thematically and narratively. It’s not unexpected to find police abuses in any story featuring the Innocence Project. Still it’s a positive factor to shine more light on modern police work and the evil often writhing beneath the surface. Sexual assault is not described in a vivid and immediate manner, and the question of truth related to such accusations is brought up repeatedly. While this is not in and of itself a good or a bad point about the text, it is important to note.
Hannah and the others working for the Innocence Project are fairly well drawn characters. While Hannah and her mother get the most narrative attention, they portrayed in a strictly sympathetic manner. Indeed, while Hannah’s thoughts about defense and prosecution and the ways they can manipulate evidence may strike sympathy from a reader, coworkers like Sean and Camila are given far more sympathetic portrayal in their brief time, and the idea of manipulating the system in such a way is treated more as understandable than justifiable.
This book is described as being based upon a real life case, and those familiar with the case in question will most definitely see similarities. That said, “based on” should very much be seen as a point of inspiration rather than detailed and accurate dramatization. To do otherwise would be a disservice both to those involved in the real case and to the author who has produced an excellent and disturbing narrative of her own.
Dervla McTiernan is already something of a name in the genre, and was a lawyer for many years before becoming known for her writing. This volume helps to show why, and is easy to recommend.