Life & Style Weekend - - BOOK CLUB - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD


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.

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