A gritty debut novel from Dundalk-raised author, Luke Cassidy, Iron Annie surprises us with a raw, visceral freshness to Irish writing that we see from the likes of Roddy Doyle and Kevin Barry. Published by Bloomsbury, this will hopefully get the marketing behind it deserving of such a distinguished voice, and one that establishes us in the here and now.

Luke’s decision to set this novel in the Irish border town of Dundalk and not one of the more iconic Irish settings is notable, and one I am sure Dundalk readers will relish in, giving this town as much character as Aoife or Annie, well, the dark seedy underbelly perhaps.

Iron Annie is the story of Aoife, a bisexual woman whose obsession with Annie, a confident, magnetic and impulsive character, threatens to undermine what stability she has. Clearly a central figure in a small-town underworld, Aoife’s strength lies in her gut instinct, intelligence, and the people she keeps around her, particularly big Shamey. When Aoife’s friend and collaborator the Rat King asks her to help him sell off ten kilos of cocaine, swiped from a rival, she decides to bring Annie for a desired intimate adventure and road trip through Brexit Britain, as they hit cities such as Liverpool, Birmingham and of course, London. After Annie makes a shallow decision that derails the trust between the two, Aoife hastily reacts, which has some vile implications that are irreversible.

Aoife’s voice is incredible as the narrator of the novel. There’s insecurity, heart, warmth, an open intelligence so stunning to bear witness to. Her ability to be drawn into the world of Annie and what she has to offer with no illusions of the whole package, that clear obsession throughout the novel has such resonance and yet, her ability to just focus on getting the job done and doing it right sits with you throughout the tale as a reader. Obviously we get an insight into Annie, but Aoife is the real protagonist throughout this novel, with her loyalty and friendship, instinct and perception.

Iron Annie introduces the reader to this raw, uncompromising criminal underworld but also surreptitiously touches on the imaginative world of the magical comic book, Iron Annie. Despite the violence and constant fear of betrayal, this is a novel heaped in humour, warmth, hope, pathos and strength, with a character at the core that we root for with every page. Cassidy has created a world and character that we are invested in, and actually keen to read more of in future works.

Iron Annie is out on 2nd September 2021, published by Bloomsbury