Book review: What Happened to Nina by Dervla McTiernan

Sunday, February 11, 2024 Permalink

We start What Happened to Nina? by Dervla McTiernan in Nina’s head so very much hope that nothing bad happens to her. Yet it does – obviously… or there would be no book. Cos “Nothing Happened to Nina” wouldn’t be very appealing as a novel of suspense or crime fiction.

McTiernan shows us her hand quite early. I was initially disappointed because there’s so much more of the novel to go. It’s only in retrospect that I realise this book was as much about the response or fallout as it was the murder or the investigation.

Book review: What Happened to Nina by Dervla McTiernanWhat Happened to Nina?
by Dervla McTiernan
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
on 05/03/2024
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1460713559
Pages: 336

Nina and Simon are the perfect couple. Young, fun and deeply in love. Until they leave for a weekend at his family's cabin in Vermont, and only Simon comes home.

Nobody knows. Simon's explanation about what happened in their last hours together doesn't add up. Nina's parents push the police for answers, and Simon's parents rush to protect him. They hire expensive lawyers and a PR firm that quickly ramps up a vicious, nothing-is-off-limits media campaign.

Soon, facts are lost in a swirl of accusation and counter-accusation. Everyone chooses a side, and the story goes viral, fuelled by armchair investigators and wild conspiracy theories and illustrated with pretty pictures taken from Nina's social media accounts. Journalists descend on their small Vermont town, followed by a few obsessive 'fans.'

Nina's family is under siege, but they never lose sight of the only thing that really matters - finding their daughter. Out-gunned by Simon's wealthy, powerful family, Nina's parents recognize that if playing by the rules won't get them anywhere, it's time to break them.

There’s a real authenticity to McTiernan’s storytelling. I could actually imagine Nina and Simon. I could imagine the conversations about them. Simon’s assertion that Nina was cheating and her friends bewildered by that but coming out of the woodwork in hindsight to say ‘they never really liked him’ anyway – though didn’t say anything to Nina as she worshipped him. Nina and Simon’s parents both having some concerns about their child’s choice of partner but accepting that the young couple were in it for the long-term and devoted to each other.

It’s only later when examined that cracks show. The same cracks that start to show when the lives of those around Nina and Simon are also thrust into the spotlight.

We learn more about Nina’s mother’s relationship with Andy who isn’t Nina’s biological father. As well as Simon’s parent’s arrangement, noting that appearances can be deceptive.

I liked the way McTiernan portrays Grace, Nina’s younger sister. She views her sister’s relationship with rose-coloured glasses and cannot understand her parent’s antipathy towards Simon, and is shocked by their suspicion of him. Initially anyway.

McTiernan does a good job at demonstrating how facts are misinterpreted and some just made-up here as the media and the community start to point the finger at Nina’s family. As a reader I felt frustrated on their behalf and powerless to do anything about it… which (of course) they were also.

The book blurb talks about the lengths parents go to for their children and as a non-parent I often find myself interested in those instances where parents draw a line in the sand. Where protecting their child, or seeking revenge or redemption is a step too far for their own good conscience.

I very much enjoyed this read and was quite shocked at how things eventually pan out. But as I said, this is less about the who, why and how of Nina’s murder than it is about what comes next.


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