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To describe The Murder Rule as improbable would be to get the word "improbable" to do an awful lot of heavy lifting. This psychological suspense novel has plot holes that would be large enough to swallow small planets. But it's good fun, nonetheless. 

 

Hannah Rokeby is a law student in Maine with a burning desire to transfer to the University of Virginia so she can volunteer to work for Professor Parekh on The Innocence Project, a team of enthusiastic lawyers who seek to overturn miscarriages of justice. To qualify for the program's support, you have to be actually, demonstrably innocent - they are not into getting people off on technicalities. Hannah is determined to work on the most high profile of their cases: that of convicted murdered Michael Dandridge, and she doesn't much care who she damages along the way.

The bulk of the story is seen through Hannah's point of view, cur for the first half with excerpts from her mother Laura's old diary of a summer keeping house for a rich family. The summer did not end well. It quickly becomes obvious how this diary set the path that sent Hannah to Virginia. 

 

The story that unfolds is partly a legal thriller, partly a cosy detective story, and partly a Bildungsroman. It's an odd mix, and the strings require some heavy manipulation to make it [sort of] hang together. In judging the story, it would be best, perhaps, not to dwell on how a legal team determined to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system could turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of one of their own. Best too not to ask how Dandridge qualified for the program given that there was little evidence to point to his actual innocence, even if his conviction was questionable. And definitely best not to ask how Hannah was forgiven her misdeeds by her peers when she had, by her own admission, ruined the career of one of their colleagues, Hazel, in a particularly vicious (but amusing) way in her quest to take Hazel's place on the Dandridge team - because some sins are simply too big to be forgiven.

 

There are then the structural issues - where the interleaving of Hannah's story and the diary runs out after half way because the story needs the diary to have been fully read before the real action can begin. And there is a single but significant scene that requires Hannah to be away from the action, leading to that one section  being ascribed to Sean, rather than Hannah or Laura. This may be less noticeable in the text version of the story, but the audiobook version uses separate narrators for Hannah and Laura's diary, leading to the late introduction of Sean's male voice. 

 

For all the failings. there are intriguing puzzles for the reader to work on and the occasional interesting twist. There are moments of genuine tension, and some of Hannah's machinations are comedy gold (see the reference to Hazel's departure...). Some of the scene setting feels more authentic than the action. 

 

The audio version of this book was entertaining if nothing else. It leaves the reader asking questions - not least 'why was this called The Murder Rule?' when it seemed to have nothing at all to do with this rather specific point of law. 

 

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