Adrian McKinty introduces Poison by Lucy Caldwell
A subtle, sweet, quietly subversive masterpiece of the pervy teacher genre. A deconstructed crime story where criminal and crime come from a wholly unexpected place
Adrian McKinty: “Stuart [Neville] and I were blown away by Poison’s emotional punch and the details of life in edgy, early post-conflict Belfast”
When Stuart Neville and I were asked to edit Belfast Noir in the famous Akashic crime series, we jumped at the chance to draw the spotlight to Northern Ireland’s surprisingly vibrant crime fiction scene. In the 1980s there were fewer than half a dozen Irish crime novels being published each year but last year there were over 40 new Irish crime titles and nearly a third of those were set in Northern Ireland. Throw in The Fall, Game of Thrones, ’71 and Belfast has become almost trendy as a locale for crime fiction and television.
This is a far cry from the apocalyptic war zone of the mid-’70s to mid-’80s when bombings and shootings happened every day. Only tough guys wrote about this world, or so everybody thought. But as the Troubles ended literary reappraisals began in earnest and in Belfast Noir Stuart and I were determined to put the record straight by having as broad a diversity of voices as we possibly could. To that end we set ourselves the goal of having half the stories in our collection written by women. The hard men were all about silencing women’s voices because the women of Belfast often mocked them and made them look ridiculous.
Top of our must-get list of authors was Lucy Caldwell whom Stu and I had both read and loved. She didn’t write noir or crime fiction but she was published by Faber, which gave me a way in because I knew Eoin McNamee and David Peace who also wrote for Faber.
Without any prep I gave Lucy a cold call, telling her about the collection and asking her to be a part of it. She didn’t balk, but she wanted to know how “noir” her story would have to be in Belfast Noir. Stu and I had discussed this and we had decided that “noir” was such a nebulous concept that each author had to decide its definition for themselves. Noir can be things like hardboiled detective fiction a la Chandler, but it also can used to describe Henry James’s Turn of the Screw or the Border Trilogy of Cormac McCarthy.
“It’s completely up to you, Lucy,” I said, rather unhelpfully, and off she went to write her story. Poison was the result, a subtle, sweet and quietly subversive masterpiece of the pervy teacher genre. A deconstructed crime story where the criminal and the crime both come from a wholly unexpected place. Stuart and I were blown away by Poison’s emotional punch and the details of life in edgy, early post-conflict Belfast. “What do you need me to change to make it more noir?” Lucy asked us, to which the only reply was, “Er, absolutely nothing.”
Stuart and I both loved Poison and I bet you will too.
Adrian McKinty is the award-winning author of the Detective Sean Duffy crime series