LIFE OF REILLY
AN IRISH-AUSTRALIAN CRIME WRITER FOLLOWS HER BEST-SELLING DEBUT WITH A STORY THAT SHOWS ANOTHER SIDE TO HER LEADING MAN
“I WAS SO SICK OF THE ALCOHOLIC DETECTIVE WHO COULDN’T HAVE NORMAL HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS.”
THE SCHOLAR Dervla Mctiernan Harpercollins $32.99
There were no second book jitters for Irish lawyer turned Aussie crime novelist Dervla Mctiernan. The follow up to her hugely successful debut novel The Ruin was already written well before she became last year’s breakout Australian author.
The Ruin made the top five best-selling Australian crime novels of 2018, hit the bestseller charts in the UK and Ireland and appeared on Amazon’s Best (Mysteries and Thrillers) Book of the Year list.
Her second novel The Scholar continues the adventures of Irish detective Cormac Reilly, a refreshingly high functioning, all round decent bloke, the type who rarely gets a look in in crime fiction.
“I was so sick of the alcoholic detective who couldn’t have normal human relationships,” Dervla says of the crime genre’s stereotypical protagonists.
“I’d be reading a book about someone who had no communication with his daughter hundreds of kilometres away and I’d be thinking, ‘just call her’.”
It seems Reilly has certainly struck a chord with readers. Dervla is still tickled by the woman who stood up at a recent book festival and declared she was in love with him. But The Scholar cleverly draws Reilly into a hit and run case that will have readers questioning his trademark moral compass.
It involves his love interest Dr Emma Sweeney, a research scientist whose work is funded by Ireland’s version of big pharma Darcy Therapeutics which, it seems, has a finger in many pies.
As the high-profile case unfolds, it seems the death is linked to the Darcy laboratory and, increasingly, to Emma herself, forcing Reilly to question his own objectivity in handling the investigation. Perhaps, in real life, conflict of interest might have ruled Reilly off the case but Dervla has always described her approach to research and standard procedure as “loose”.
“A friend of my brother’s was a detective and I’d check a few things with him but I cheat when it suits my purpose,” she laughs. “It never bothered me as a reader. If it’s good, nothing will throw you out of the story.”
One of seven children growing up in Galway on Ireland’s west coast, Dervla read a lot of fantasy in her youth but swapped to crime novels in her late 20s.
She studied law at the behest of her parents and, despite knowing it wasn’t really for her, worked as a corporate lawyer for 12 years, establishing her own practice in Galway. Her husband Kenny was a civil engineer. When what she calls “the big crash” decimated the Irish economy, they knew an equally big change was needed.
They settled in Perth in 2011 with their young daughter and a baby on the way and found jobs. Then, in 2014, Dervla decided it was time to get serious about her writing itch.
She had the beginning of what was to become The Ruin in her head and started writing it at night after the kids were in bed.
Less than three years later, she was signing a two-book deal after a six-way auction for the rights. The Ruin was published in New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada, with Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic to follow. Australian film producers Hopscotch Features have also optioned the screen rights.
“It was all so much more than I ever expected, just amazing,” Dervla says.
But just as she might insert a plot twist herself, Dervla had her own unexpected diversion in the midst of it all.
A scan to discover why she was having persistent headaches revealed a tumour at the base of her brain that required urgent surgery. “The diagnosis came out of nowhere. It was the same time agents were asking for my full manuscript and I spent the three weeks between diagnosis and surgery sending the manuscript out.”
Even with the scare, Dervla says life in Australia has been immensely good to her family. While it’s now home for them, she is still setting her novels in Ireland.
“I think when you grow up somewhere, you can just take a few words to describe the picture in your head,” she says.
That said, Dervla’s third novel will be another in the Cormac Reilly series although this one will focus more on Reilly’s sidekick Peter. “I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m stepping sideways into Peter’s head. I hope that
Peter’s been in the books enough from the beginning to hear more of his story too.”
Time will tell whether Dervla’s many fans have room in their hearts for Reilly’s colleagues too, but in the meantime, there’s no escaping the question on everyone’s lips: who would she like to see play Cormac Reilly on screen? “Everyone has their own version of what he looks like but I’m going to say Colin Farrell,” she says.