The Ruin: Excellent characterisation, but it’s not enough to save it from being a frustrating read

The Ruin book review

What is this about: Two different cases, tied together by Cormac Reilly and a murder.

What else is this about?: Despite being a book that frustrated me, it does have excellent characterisation, and deals with questions of family and what they will do to survive


It’s been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he’s never forgotten the two children she left behind…

When Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget – until Jack’s sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an ‘accidental’ overdose twenty years ago – of Jack and Maude’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything…

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can’t – or won’t. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.

Stars: 3

Before I actually get to why The Ruin was an exercise in frustration, I want to run through the good of it.

Cormac Reilly is a good cop, in a small town in Ireland. He’s moved there to be with Emma, his partner, and given up a rising career in a bigger force in Dublin. We learn that he is an outsider in the force int his town, and a newbie coming into cliques that aren’t calling for new members, so to speak.

The book revolves around setting up this character, given the series revolves around him: we learn bits and pieces of his past, of how he came to meet Emma, but never enough that she, arguably the most important person in his life is anything more than a reactionary character and love interest. To be frank, I don’t care enough about her to count this against the book because it has so many issues with pacing.

Part of settling in at this new force is learning who to trust, and when Jack Blake is murdered, Cormac begins to learn this in earnest.

But back to the case: twenty years ago, as a young cop he answered a call to a remote house where he found Maude and her brother Jack, and their dead mother – from a heroin overdose. We learn about the intricacies and difficulties of the Irish welfare system and how they  gave kids back tot heir parents above all else, even if the kids were suffering abuse. So when Maude made sure her brother was safe in hospital before she ran away, she did so to ensure he was adopted into a family, which was more likely to take a 5 year old than a 15 year old sister and a 5 year old.

Fastforward twenty years, and Jack is dead – suicide. But a recently returned Maude makes a plausible case that he could have been murdered.

And when that happens, Reilly is brought in to investigate her mother’s death because his fellow cops are now convinced that Maude must have had something to do with that, like she must have had something to do with Jack’s murder, having returned to Ireland, 3 days before Jack’s death and lying about it to the cops.

Cormac doesn’t believe it, though the self-righteousness at times in certain situations gets tiring. But as his investigation progresses, and he actively starts asking questions we get to learn what’s going on.  However, there were moments were I felt he was being held back because there were two investigations going on: his own, and that of Maude and her compatriots as they tried to find their way through a police force very determined to see Maude out of the way.

Yeah, we’ve reached the stuff-I-didn’t-like part of this review

This is the only book that has actively made me wish for the fast death of a pregnant woman.

Don’t look at me like that.

Aisling is Jack’s partner. Newly pregnant, like weeks along if that, when Jack is murdered. And lucky us, we get to endure every bit of grief, whining about her career, about everything she’s done to get to this point (wants to be a surgeon, top of her class) and should she have the baby, or should she have an abortion

She is the reason why I felt like I had been listening to this book for weeks, or to be more accurate why what was in reality a 5-day investigation in the book’s timeline actually felt like weeks. It did my head in.

I genuinely wish I could care about her. At best, she is perhaps there to provide a commentary on abortion and women’s rights in Ireland, except you know, she never makes that decision because something else happens in the end to the baby. So why did we have to endure her at work, talking to her friends about her pregnancy over and over and over again? All the important questions she started the book with went nowhere.

I mean, with different POVs in the book, and with pacing issues the last thing I wanted was to move forward in the plot with Maude, and then move back in the timeline to focus on Aisling right from a specific instance. So I felt like we were treading over the same scenarios from two POVs.

Had she been lifted out of the book, I actually don’t think she would have been missed. Aisling does nothing in this book that Maude, his sister could not have done. 

And that’s the worst part of this book, because my God, what a missed opportunity Maude is!

The author has created a tragic past for Jack and Maude, filled with so much emotion and wonderful characterisation that I would have loved to have seen more of, to have seen more of present-Maude has she dealt with Jack’s death and investigating what happened to him.

Nope, we have to focus on Aisling’s whining.

Maude gave up her brother for his own good, ran away to Australia to make a life for herself. Then gets back to Ireland and gathers enough evidence to prove Jack didn’t kill himself while Aisling whines about how she shouldn’t investigate – and here’s the thing about Aisling — we are told over and over how she’s apparently so determined, so intelligent and so everything that she’s overcome great odds to be top of her class – but she can’t gather enough of a spine to partner with Maude to investigate even the remote chance Jack was murdered?

Really? I would buy this was grief, but that the author didn’t convey that enough for me. Suicide versus murder is an important distinction to be made in Ireland because of how religious the country is, and this is touched on at the beginning, but Aisling never goes with it. She would rather go back to work, and ignore Maude.

Maude has to drag her – kicking and screaming — to do anything until the last third of the book when Maude is pushed out of the way, and Aisling accidentally discovers a purpose – which mind you does nothing anyway. Nothing comes of her purpose, other to mark her as a victim for the big climax. 

The book delves into Maude, into her background and her friends who helped her way back when and still here now with her, fighting a wrongful arrest and conviction. Maude is a sensational character, and what a different book this would have been had she been driving this narrative with Reilly.

Mind you, I do have issues with a narrative where Maude and her friends figure things out separately before the cop does, and then they get sidelined so they’re out of the narrative – so Cormac and Aisling could come back into the action, so to speak. Part of me wonders if bits of this book got padded out for some reason.

I believed the hype with this one, and it maybe lived up to a third of it and I am so mad with myself because I wanted it to be good.

I can’t decide if this is 10 hours and 24 min of my life I’ll never get back, or if this was enjoyable or not – which is why I’m only giving it a 3.


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