When Dr. Emma Sweeney stumbles across the victim of a hit-and-run outside Galway University early one morning, she calls her boyfriend, Detective Cormac Reilly, bringing him first to the scene of a murder that would otherwise never have been assigned to him. The dead girl is carrying an ID that will put this crime at the center of a scandalher card identifies her as Carline Darcy, heir apparent to Darcy Therapeutics, Ireland's most successful pharmaceutical company. Darcy Therapeutics has a finger in every pie, from sponsoring university research facilities to funding political parties to philanthropyit has even funded Emma's own ground-breaking research.
As the murder investigation twists in unexpected ways and Cormac's running of the case comes under scrutiny from the department and his colleagues, he is forced to question himself and the beliefs that he has long held as truths. Who really is Emma? And who is Carline Darcy?
A gripping and atmospheric follow-up to The Ruin, an "expertly plotted, complex web of secrets that refuse to stay hidden" (Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King's Daughter), The Scholar is perfect for fans of Tana French and Flynn Berry.
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Carrie O'Halloran's phone stayed stubbornly silent. She'd expected a call from Ciarán so the girls could say goodnight. When that hadn't happened, she'd held out for a post-bedtime update. Nine o'clock came and went and her phone screen remained dark. She could have called him, she knew that, but she didn't have the energy for another one of those conversations. Instead she put her phone in the drawer and turned again to the mound of paper on her desk.
The case she was working on needed all her attention. It should have been a slam dunk - Rob Henderson had been caught red-handed - but the case showed distressing signs of slipping out of her control. She couldn't allow that to happen. Carrie had interviewed Lucy Henderson but had failed to make a connection. Now she was reviewing the statements of colleagues and extended family members, looking for the lever she could use to open Lucy up to the fact that her husband was a murderous bastard.
An hour passed before Carrie put her pen down and sat back from her desk. She took her phone from the drawer and woke the screen. No messages, no missed calls. Damnit. She didn't want to go home. The girls would be asleep, the kitchen a tip, and Ciarán pissed off and sulking. It would be easier to just go down to the basement, find an empty cell, and sleep there. She'd have to be back by six the next day anyway if she was going to finish her Henderson prep on time.
Carrie shut down her computer, stood, and took her jacket from the back of her chair. She looked around. There were plenty of occupied desks, but nobody else in the room had started their shift at seven that morning. Fuck's sake. It would be one thing if it was a one-off, but it had been like this for months. When she'd made sergeant she'd been thrilled at the thought of managing her own time. She would report to Murphy, yes, but looked forward to the broad autonomy sergeants had to run their own cases and to manage the gardaí reporting to them. The reality was nowadays she had less control than ever. As a uniformed garda she'd been able to go in, work her shift, and go home. There was always someone to take her place. She'd worked overtime, but only as needed, and in this day and age of budget cuts, as needed was a rare thing. Now she was one of only three sergeants working out of Mill Street Garda Station, and she never went home because if she did the work would never get done.
Carrie walked out of the room, along the corridor to the stairs, started down, then stopped. She'd started to dread going home, and dread going to work. This was bullshit. This was not who she was. How long was she going to let this go on before she tackled it? Carrie stood on the stairs and thought about Mel Hackett on holiday in the south of France, about Cormac Reilly walking out of the station at six o'clock, as he had every day this week. She turned on her heel and made for the Superintendent's office. Murphy wouldn't usually be in the station this late, preferring to leave the long shifts and antisocial hours to his juniors, but she knew he was there. He'd been at meetings in Dublin all day and had come directly to the station on his return to Galway. She knocked on his door.
'A moment, sir?'
Brian Murphy was engrossed in whatever was on his computer screen. His mouse hand clicked twice before he looked up. It was after hours; he was probably posting on triathletenow.com again. Not for the first time, Carrie tried to think of a way to drop a hint that Murphy's posts weren't as anonymous as he thought. Somehow, someone in vice had found out his user handle, and it was now known across the station. The night that TopCopTriGuy had engaged in a detailed discussion of haemorrhoid problems in older cyclists had resulted in station-wide hilarity, and the placing of cushions on meeting room chairs whenever Murphy was likely to appear. He couldn't possibly be as oblivious as he seemed, could he?
He gestured to her to take a seat. 'I've read your report on the Henderson case. Where are we with the assessment?'
Within an hour of being taken into custody, Rob Henderson had adopted an escalating pattern of behaviour that indicated either a serious mental illness, or exceptional acting skills. He was currently in the Central Mental Hospital in Dublin, undergoing assessment.
'Nothing formal yet, that will take a few more days, but I've been pushing, and I get the impression that they don't know what to make of him yet. Personally, I think it's all bullshit. He's faking.'
'And the wife?'
'Still in denial. I've a meeting with her again tomorrow. I'm going to push her harder this time.'
'Update me afterwards,' Murphy said. 'Let me know if you make any progress.'
Carrie nodded. She would have done so without the request. The case was high profile, and Murphy had been all over it from the beginning. He looked at her expectantly, waiting for more. She hesitated, almost let it go.
'Sir, I've got too much on,' Carrie blurted. 'Too many cases, I mean.'
Murphy started tapping the desk with his index finger, never a good sign.
'I've six active cases. Seven more going to court within the next few months.' Meanwhile Mel Hackett had what, two? Three max. And Reilly nothing current at all. 'It's not sustainable. If I keep working like this I'll make mistakes.'
'It's not a nine-to-five job, Carrie. I made that clear to you when I offered you the promotion.'
She ignored that, going straight to what she knew would motivate him. 'I've had a look at the stats. Our timeframe to clearance is running long. And we've two missing persons not yet traced.' Stats were a regular and contentious point of discussion at the station. The Commissioner had set a zero target for untraced missing persons that year and hitting that target would be top of Murphy's priority list.
Murphy leaned back in his chair. 'Hackett is due back next week,' he said. 'We'll sit down then and do a case review, see what can be redistributed.'
'Sir, I talked to Mel before she went on holiday. She's positive she doesn't have the capacity to take on anything more.' Which was bollox, but that was beside the point.
Murphy rubbed his jaw, compressed his lips, and said nothing.
'Cormac Reilly ...' Carrie started.
'Reilly is fully engaged,' Murphy said. 'He's caught up in a cold case review that takes all of his time.'
Carrie made no attempt to hide her frustration. 'Christ sir, when do you want me to get it done? In my sleep?'
'This is the job, Carrie.'
'Sir, what I'm telling you is that you've got three sergeants working for you, and the least experienced of them is doing seventy per cent of the work load.' Because Hackett was an old hand at managing the system, and Cormac Reilly wasn't let near anything that looked like a real case. 'Reilly is a bloody good detective,' Carrie continued. 'I've heard about some of the cases he's run and won. We're lucky to have him. And it's madness to keep him working pissy little cold cases that aren't going to go anywhere. You need to put him on active cases, or replace him with someone you can use.' Carrie stopped, waited for Murphy to show her the door.
'One of those pissy little cold cases, as you so colourfully call them, has resulted in a major arrest.'
'That's one case,' Carrie said quickly, hiding her relief. 'And it's all but put to bed.'
There was a long pause, during which the last few police in the building could be heard talking loudly about pints and weekend plans. It was all so bloody stupid. Did he really think that Reilly would throw in the towel if he was frozen out for long enough? He was a career cop, it was in his DNA. Reilly was going nowhere, unless of course he transferred back to Dublin. He might already have done that if it wasn't for the girlfriend. Partner. Whatever.
'It wasn't his fault, sir. The shooting.'
'I never suggested it was.'
Carrie hesitated. The part of her that was interested in self-preservation and career advancement wanted her to shut up. The part of her that was desperate for a weekend off, some time with her kids, and at least a chance of saving her marriage, said to press on. The little bit of her that believed Cormac Reilly had been treated unfairly tipped the balance.
'It's not going to work,' Carrie said quietly. 'He's not going to go anywhere, and people are talking. It's been over a year. The uniforms aren't stupid. They know about his previous success rate. Internal affairs cleared him in the shooting case, on paper he's back on active duty, but in practice he gets nothing. They're asking why. They're saying there's no smoke without fire. Sooner or later Reilly will have to do something. What if he calls in the union? Or worse, a lawyer?'
'If you're suggesting that Cormac Reilly has been treated unfavourably because of what happened last year, O'Halloran, you're out of line. Reilly gets his cases in rotation like everyone else.'
Carrie said nothing more, waited. Let the lie hang in the air between them. She looked at Murphy, caught his gaze and held it.
He was the first to look away. When he spoke it was very quietly. 'You're sure about this, Carrie? There's no going back.'
She hesitated. 'I'm sure.'
Without looking at her he turned to his computer screen, moved and clicked his mouse. Read something that Carrie couldn't see.
'Give Reilly the Durkan case.' Another click of the keys. 'Nesbitt too.' A pause. 'And give him Henderson.'
Carrie had been on the point of smiling in relief, but at Murphy's last word she froze, opened her mouth to protest. 'Sir, I ...'
'I read the transcript of your last interview with Lucy Henderson. You're not getting anywhere with her. Let Reilly see where he can take it. She strikes me as the type who'd respond better to a man.'
His tone made it clear that the meeting was at an end.
'Thank you, sir.' She waited, but he didn't react. She had reached the door when he spoke again.
'O'Halloran. I hope this isn't a mistake.' His tone was pointed, his expression distant, and the message was clear. Carrie had been granted a favour, and that favour had been noted in his little book of services owed and given. He would call it in too. He always did.
Cormac was surprised, but not unpleasantly so, to receive a text message from Carrie O'Halloran asking if he was free for a quick drink. He was in town anyway, as it happened, having a pint and waiting for Emma. He texted Carrie back, ordering himself another drink and a glass of red for her while he waited.
He liked Carrie. She was a good cop, a good sergeant, and he trusted her. The year before, when an investigation had led Cormac to a violent confrontation with a colleague, Carrie had done what she could to ensure that the powers that be didn't scapegoat him. Since then they'd had coffee or lunch together a handful of times, but they weren't on the kind of terms that included Friday night drinks. Something must be up.
She arrived five minutes later, made her way through the bar and found him in his corner booth. He watched her as she approached, noted the signs of tiredness around her eyes. She was still wearing the tailored pants and jacket he'd seen her in earlier that day. She clocked the wine as soon as she sat down.
'Thanks,' she said. 'But I should probably have coffee.' Still, she reached out and picked up the glass, took a sip. 'I haven't been home before ten o'clock any night this week. I worked the last two weekends and worked three last month. I'm overloaded. I've spoken to Murphy and he's told me to transfer some cases to you.'
Cormac nodded slowly. 'That makes sense,' he said. He couldn't quite read her - had she wanted this? 'Which cases?'
'Durkan. Nesbitt. And Henderson.'
'Right.' The first two he'd heard nothing about, assumed were standard fare. But the Henderson case. He'd heard enough about it to know she'd been working it passionately. It was almost certainly the case that had kept her at the station all hours for the past week.
'Henderson,' Cormac said. 'Are you all right about that?'
'No,' she said baldly. She sipped her wine, then turned to him. 'Murphy wasn't too pleased with me putting him under pressure. I gave him an earful about you working cold cases. Said he needed to shit or get off the pot. Well, not in so many words.'
'And Henderson was his way of saying ...'
'His way of saying thank you, yes.' She put her glass down on the table. 'It's an important case to get right,' she said, and he could tell that she was picking her words carefully. 'Lucy Henderson is a hard read.'
'Right,' Cormac said. He took a drink from his pint, buying time. He wanted the case. If he was honest with himself he knew he was desperate for it, desperate for the challenge. But getting it like this was not ideal - picking up something that already had someone else's fingerprints all over it, someone else's method, particularly when that someone resented handing it over.
'Let's talk to Murphy on Monday. Decide which cases are at a good stage to unload. You keep Henderson. I'll take whatever you think you should pass over. If we present Murphy with a fait accompli he'll have to take it.'
She looked surprised, then considering, then reluctantly shook her head. Took a longer sip from her wine. 'He's right, though I hate to admit it. I've made no progress with the wife. She might respond better to you. And the hearing will almost certainly clash with one of my other cases. I think you're going to have to take it.' She still looked tired but some of the tension had gone from her voice. 'There's an interview tomorrow morning, which is why I needed to catch you tonight.'
Cormac sat back. 'Carrie, I've no wish to fall out with you.'
She waved him off. 'No. Sorry. It's me. I was a bit pissed off, but that's just the tiredness speaking. I should go home. Get some sleep.' She made no move to stand.
A phone vibrated against the table and they both looked down. Cormac picked it up.