If you love novels by authors such as Tana French and Jane Harper, Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series is a definite must-read. The Scholar is the second installment in the series, and does not stand well on its own, so do yourself a favor and read The Ruin before diving in.
The Scholar picks up not long after the ending of The Ruin. Cormac Reilly has been assigned a series of cold cases, and he’s not thrilled about it. Still, he intends to keep his head down and follow orders so as not to incur the wrath of his superiors, but this proves difficult when his live-in girlfriend Emma calls him from outside the laboratory where she works. She’s quite distraught, and it takes Cormac a little while to understand what has happened, but he eventually understands that Emma has just witnessed a hit and run, and the victim appears to be dead.
Cormac rushes to the scene of the crime, and declares himself the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation. He’s aware that taking the lead on the case could be seen as a conflict of interest due to Emma’s role as the only witness to what happened, but he brushes off those concerns and sets about the business of solving the crime. The victim is a young woman who is carrying the ID of Carline Darcy, a university student whose family owns one of the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and although Cormac initially believes Carline herself to be the victim, it soon becomes obvious this is not the case
As time passes and Cormac continues to look into the mysterious death of the unidentified young woman, he faces opposition at every turn. His coworkers want him off the case, citing his connection to Emma as reason enough for him to be reassigned, and the Darcy family is very reluctant to answer any of his questions. What secrets are they keeping? Who is the victim of the hit and run, and what connection does she have to the Darcy family? And, on a more personal note, could Emma know more about the crime than she’s willing to admit? With tons of questions and very few answers, Cormac is forced to put everything he holds dear on the line in order to solve one of the most complicated cases of his career.
I absolutely loved The Ruin, so I was super excited to get my hands on a copy of The Scholar. Ms. McTiernan does a fantastic job creating complex characters who find themselves embroiled in dangerous and confusing situations, and Cormac Reilly is chief among them. He’s exactly the kind of series protagonist I love, someone with a ton of emotional baggage and a deep and abiding dedication to his job. His ethics are sometimes a bit on the questionable side, but even when his actions didn’t sit quite right with me, it’s obvious he’s trying to obtain justice for those who need it, and this makes his missteps a bit more forgivable than they otherwise might have been.
This is not one of those books that starts with a bang. It’s more of a gradual build up, allowing the reader to grasp every detail of the unfolding mystery, but it’s not at all slow. Ms. McTiernan manages to find the perfect balance between plot and character, making The Scholar a novel I found difficult to down.
There’s also an element of police corruption woven into the story. It carries over from events seen in The Ruin, and it’s my least favorite part of the plot. Cormac knows several of his fellow inspectors are engaged in some shady dealings, but he’s not sure what to do about it. I’m well aware that this sort of thing happens in the real world, but it’s not something I’m a fan of in fiction. Of course, this is very much a personal quibble, so your mileage may vary.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the corruption angle, I flew through The Scholar. Ms. McTiernan’s attention to detail coupled with her ability to craft superbly twisty stories makes this a series I’m happy to recommend to fans of the genre who are looking for complicated stories to get lost in.