The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

“No one in innocent in this story”. Laura finagles her way into a coveted position on The Innocence Project, a legal team that work to free people who have been wrongly incarcerated. Leaving her fragile, alcoholic mother behind, she works to sabotage the case of a man who deserves to stay behind bars. But nothing is what it seems.

The title refers to the the Felony Murder Rule in US law, which, loosely, refers to being able to prosecute an accomplice for murder if they helped someone engage in a violent crime where a murder was committed. For example, if you lend someone your car and they use it to commit a robbery and they kill someone, even though you were at home watching TV, you can be charged with murder as well. (It’s not a law in all jurisdictions) It’s a law about guilt and responsibility, and perhaps about prior knowledge too, which I think you could say are some of the themes of this book. But it’s also a bit odd, because the book doesn’t use this rule of law in it’s plot.

Dervla McTiernan is quite well known for legal thrillers like this. Based in Australia, she’s now reaching wider audiences and this book is set to be made into a TV series. Which I think sounds really intriguing, the plot will work well for a miniseries, I think. McTiernan was a lawyer in the US before becoming an author, and she knows well not only the legal system in the US but also the way that working as a lawyer there can be soul crushing as often as is it rewarding.

The book is in the third person, for the most part, which I really appreciated. There’s arguably too many first person books lately, and I liked the change. It mostly follows Hannah and her plan to get into the Innocence Project and what she gets up to once she’s in there, and as the mystery elements come to light. Then, every few chapters, there’s diary entries from her mother from years before that connect to the present in ways that we are there to learn about as we go. (These are obviously first person) The chapters are quite short and on the whole, I really liked how fast the book moved. It’s a page turner, with a swift plot and little twists and turns and small pieces of the puzzle dropped as we go.

I liked the different characters and the way they are written. Quite a few of them are not all that nice, but not necessarily unlikable. They feel complex and human, even though the author doesn’t belabor us getting to know them or make them overly detailed. I felt like our main character was a little naive in some ways, and yet I came to see how that was all part of the overall plot and her motivation, and so I quite liked that.

I would read this author again, and may go and read some of her back catalogue. The legal world of the book felt real and well fleshed out, not romanticised, and I liked the fast pacing of the story. That said, the last chapters feel a bit more rushed and a little unrealistic, legally speaking. The outcome of the plot and the mystery is fine, but it felt like it all wrapped up neatly in one chapter with a court room scene and a confrontation. It seemed like a lot of things happened that didn’t feel like they would in the real legal system and it was all neatly resolved. When is anything in the legal system neatly resolved?

Read It If: I think true crime readers will be drawn to this book by words like “Innocence Project” and “felony murder rule”, and they will stay for the good writing and fast pace. Overall, good.

Thank you to the publisher for the copy of this book for review.

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