“What is a Cig?” I asked the man sitting opposite. He was a guard who had agreed to meet me in return for a coffee in his local Costa. I’d bought the beverages and as he sipped, I took out my notebook, opened it and tried to ignore his look of apprehension as he took in the list of questions I had prepared.
“I think we’re going to need bigger coffee cups,” he joked.
Eighteen months ago, I didn’t know such a question existed. Eighteen months ago, I would have had a better chance of climbing Everest without oxygen, on one foot, than answering. it And yet, despite the yawning chasm of my ignorance, I had a desire to write a book about a detective sergeant called Lucy Golden.
Lucy first appeared to me in 2019, when my husband and I took a trip to Achill.
For anyone who hasn’t been that far west, Achill is at once a stunningly beautiful and a wildly savage place. Glorious beaches under blue skies, twisty roads, ferocious Atlantic winds, acres and acres of bogland. It’s desolate in winter and hums with life in the summer. It has its locals and its blow-in’s. It has traditions and folklore and the Irish language.
As my husband drove us across the bridge onto the island, the first words I uttered were, “Wow, if I was ever going to write a crime novel, this is where I’d set it.”
And it was like a nuclear explosion in my head, a chain reaction, creating new reactions. Suddenly, I had my detective, Lucy Golden. I caught a fleeting glimpse into her complicated messy mind, I saw her flounder in her complicated messy job. I wanted to get to know her.
I could see a body, in a grey tracksuit, lying on the bog.
Who had murdered this person.? And why?
I had to write this book.
But I hadn’t written a book since 2016. Could I still do it?
2016 had been a seminal year for me. Early on, I’d written a highly successful play commemorating the men of 1916 who left Maynooth to fight in the rising. It had started out as a small project but as the months went by, it grew into a monster. I became writer, director and producer. When it was finally performed, over two nights, we attracted an audience of over eight-hundred people.
That play, working with those people, seeing an audience love my work, made me very happy.
Two weeks later, I was in front of a surgeon, who was telling me that I’d need a mastectomy because I had breast cancer.
A glorious high to a crushing low all in the space of a fortnight.
But the cancer forced me to stop. My life slowed down enough so that I got off the merry-go-round and re-examined everything. I realised that while I still wanted to tell stories, I wanted to do it in a different way for now. I wanted to do it through drama, I wanted other people to come onboard, I wanted to reconnect with life.
And it was all going so well, until Achill and Lucy came knocking on my brain.
I had to write her. I had to write Achill.
I soon found out that writing crime is hard. Writing a police procedural is harder still. Because of like…the procedure.
There is so much procedure. And there is a skill is not letting it show in the writing.
I found myself reading the weirdest things. Books about murder. Books about forensics. I gorged on the true crime shows on Netflix. I listened to podcasts. I scared myself stupid by reading other peoples crime novels (they were good), I talked to guards and detectives. I begged them to read the early drafts. I lived in dread that my plot would fall apart once they’d seen it. I googled things that would get me ten years in prison if I ever ended up in court.
I learned so much.
Going back to novel writing was like saying ‘hello’ to an old friend, a friend that I didn’t realise I’d missed until I flicked on the laptop and created a file called ‘Police Novel’. During the last while, I lived and breathed Lucy and her work colleagues. I wrote the book not knowing who the culprit was and had great fun finding out.
It took a year to bang it into shape. The result is The Night Caller – a book about a crime, a detective, and the responsibilities of society.
The highest praise I’ve got so far is when a member of the force said to me, “We’ll make a detective out of you yet, Martina.”
And just FYI, that day in Costa, I found out that a Cig is a Detective Inspector. The Cig is short for cigire (the irish for Inspector!)
As they’d say in Achill – Sín sín.
(c) Martina Murphy
About The Night Caller:
Sometimes darkness stalks the most beautiful places…
On Doogarth East Bog, Achill Island, a body is found. The close community is stunned to learn that it’s Lisa Moran, a popular teacher who disappeared two days earlier.
DS Lucy Golden is assigned to the case. For her, it’s personal. As an Achill native, she knows that sometimes great evil can lurk in plain sight. Having moved back from Dublin, she has spent the last ten years trying to prove herself to her colleagues after her husband was jailed for fraud. This is her chance to put the past behind her. Her teenage son Luc’s behaviour, however, is increasingly troubling and Lucy doesn’t have time for distractions.
When another body is found in an abandoned property on the bog, with links to a murder 20 years ago, the stakes are raised – but a pattern is emerging. Can Lucy put the pieces together? Or will her family crisis mean the murderer claims his next victim?
‘Well plotted and page turning’ – Patricia Gibney
Order your copy online here.