Whisky Magazine Issue 66
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Jefferson Chasedelves into a novel set in Northern Ireland at the height of the Second World War
Maurice Leitch has been called the “grim reaper of Northern Irish fiction,” but he's a BBC correspondent and a novelist, not a man in a black hood with a scythe.
Leitch has been training his fictional eye on Ulster for more than three decades, and his job as a journalist is evident in his style — knowledgeable and colloquial, but also distanced and clear-eyed.
For his 1998 novel The Smoke King, Leitch picked an unusual period in Northern Irish history, World War II, when the region played host to Allied troops from across the pond.
An African-American GI, Willie Washington, is stationed in a provincial Ulster town, where he is confronted with a number of previous unknown temptations. One of them is an affair with an Irishwoman — a hazardous undertaking considering the racism of both the US Army and the local populace.
Another is the local drink.
Fatefully, he decides to hoist a few bevvies with a trio of fellow GIs, who are more interested in a fight than a pint.
Why, if hardy came to hardy, he could whup all three of them, no sweat, he told himself, even if a stick-knife came into play. He took another gulp of that old black beer, and when he looked at the bar he could see another line of bottles materialise there as if by magic. Looking back on it this had to be the moment when he started to get seriously drunk.
Inebriation is a mistake — Washington's night out ends in a fatal shooting.
Washington's misfortune gives a dissolute local law enforcement office...