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The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

Published by Penguin Books on May 14, 2019

The Scholar is an Irish police procedural. It follows The Ruin, which introduced the series protagonist, DS Cormac Reilly. The novels are set in Galway, where Cormac has been transferred from Dublin and assigned to cold cases as punishment for his justifiable shooting of another cop. In The Scholar, DS Carrie O’Halloran prevails upon her superior to move Cormac from cold cases to open investigations because her department is severely understaffed.

Cormac’s first major case seems destined to end with his return to the basement, if not fired. Cormac lives with Dr. Emma Sweeney, a fragile woman who is haunted by her past. Emma calls Cormac when she finds a dead woman in a road, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run. Cormac can see that the driver ran over the victim twice, likely wanting to make sure she was dead. The victim’s face is mangled but she is carrying a student ID with the name Carline Darcy.

Emma works as a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company that was founded by Carline Darcy’s wealthy grandfather. Carline wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and is widely seen in her college a having inherited her grandfather’s genius. Not everyone shares that assessment, including her grandfather, but she was given a chance to prove herself with an internship in her grandfather’s Galway lab.

Carline seems to have come to an unhappy end, leading Cormac to be surprised and a bit embarrassed when he discovers that Carline is alive and well. Carline has a story about how she lost her ID some months earlier. Cormac’s powerful grandfather, unhappy to be bothered by news of Carline’s death, makes clear that he wants the inquiry to end, as least as it involves his family. Cormac’s politically attuned superior is happy to oblige; Cormac, not so much.

Carline’s relationship with her family contributes one layer of intrigue to the story. Office politics relating to Cormac’s past adds another layer. Since Emma discovered the dead body, Cormac probably shouldn’t stay on the case, but nobody regards Emma as a suspect so he continues the investigation. That turns out to be a misjudgment that Cormac’s enemies in the garda use against him. Whether Emma is or isn’t involved in the murder is the key question the reader is asked to consider, while the impact that question has on her relationship with Cormac adds a bit of domestic drama to the plot.

The Scholar is a straightforward procedural as Cormac works with and against colleagues to solve the murder (as well as a second murder) while hoping that the murderer is not Emma. The plot moves quickly. The reader is given enough information to work out the motive for the murders, although perhaps not the killer’s identity.

Cormac is the kind of character who is a staple of police procedurals: the beleaguered cop who is haunted by his past, doggedly competent and driven by a desire for the truth. Unlike many American police procedurals that make detectives in that mold too sanctimonious to stomach, Cormac is humble and self-doubting, which makes him an appealing character. Minor characters, particularly the first murder victim’s family members, are developed in enough detail to make Cormac’s varying reactions to them seem authentic. The combination of sympathetic characters and an enjoyable story make The Scholar a good choice for fans of police procedurals.


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