DERVLA McTIERNAN The Good Turn. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
The Good Turn continues Irish-Australian writer Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly crime series, which has become a firm favourite in a very short time.
For those that are new to Cormac Reilly’s story, he’s an Irish Garda officer with a messy professional and personal life. Because these aspects are a very big part of the overall story, it’s a series that really needs to be read in order to get the full picture, particularly as there are some plotlines that carry through all the books before being closed off nicely in The Good Turn.
The sense of effortless yarn-spinning is something that really stands out over the three books in the series. It doesn’t ever let go of the fundamentals of a police procedural, with crimes being investigated, stories being assessed and guilty parties identified, but it does that with brilliant characterisation and elegant descriptions of place, behaviour and atmosphere. Underlying everything is the taint of police corruption and nepotism, and Reilly’s quiet determination to fight it, to not succumb to the overwhelming pressure to be inside the tent.
‘You’ll leave me no choice but to make a formal complaint,’ Cormac said.
‘You do that, Sergeant Reilly. Let’s see how far it gets you,’ Murphy said, and he pointed again to the door.
Because of his stance, Reilly’s got a lot of enemies at work, and this isn’t helped when Garda Peter Fisher makes a huge misstep in a case while under Reilly’s supervision:
But the engine revved one final time and then the car was hurtling towards him and there was nowhere left for him to go. Peter didn’t think. Instinct and training tightened his trigger finger and the gun fired. Once. Twice. Three times. With the engine noise and the adrenaline pounding through him and his heart thudding in his ears he barely heard the sound of the gunshots, but the kickback jerked the gun in his hands and he saw the windscreen shatter. The roar of the engine quietened and the car slowed but it kept coming and he should move, he knew he should move but his feet were so firmly planted and his body wouldn’t obey him.
Fisher is transferred out of Galway back to his home town and a stint working for his tyrannical father.
The transfer does give Fisher a chance to reconnect with his much-loved maternal grandmother, and it turns out there are plenty of other unexpected connections in the town. There’s also an unsolved case that doesn’t add up:
‘There was a double murder a few months back, here in Roundstone,’ Peter said. ‘I was supposed to tidy up the paperwork – the investigation was done and dusted and the murders attributed to a Dublin gang on a rural raid, though there were no arrests. ‘
There’s absolutely nothing in the way McTiernan expands these storylines and works in the coincidence of connection to make you stop to wonder how everything ends up revolving around a few people, in a small town, a long way from anywhere.
Meanwhile Reilly’s personal life goes from tricky to difficult in one massive misstep of his own, but he’s preoccupied with the case against Fisher, and Reilly’s not the sort of person who will let the bullies, or the corrupt, win. He’s not going to let Fisher go down in a sting they both know is designed to further discredit him.
Knowing Reilly’s personal and professional backstory becomes incredibly important in understanding his approach and the games being played here. There are a lot of threads being skilfully woven into place in The Good Turn and McTiernan keeps everything in play without confusing, overblowing or underdeveloping any of the elements.
There are plenty of threats built in as well, and not just to Reilly. Fisher’s father is an overwhelming presence, cruel and twisted, and you feel the pressure he has exerted on his family for years. Reilly is also under threat on all sorts of levels, not just from corrupt senior police, and there is a palpable sense of right that feeds his burning need to expose the truth about the abduction of the young girl that triggered all of this, and that unexplained double murder on the fringe of the village.
From the icy darkness of a freezing Irish winter to an Irish village locked-in by the weather, McTiernan creates a sense of dread that’s not always immediately apparent in the police procedural format.
Cormac Reilly has had a fight on his hands right from the first novel, The Ruin. He’s fought corruption and tyranny in The Scholar, and tried desperately to hang onto the woman he loves, and the life he longs for, through to The Good Turn. How he handles the pressure of all this is a question that readers may still be asking themselves for some time to come.
Dervla McTiernan The Good Turn HarperCollins 2020 PB 400pp $32.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.
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