Set in a dreamy, sweaty, stormy haze of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, A Fierce and Subtle Poison stands as a modern, mystical mythology of one young man’s attempt to find—and hold on to—truth while surrounded by half-lies and whispered curses.
Seventeen-year-old Lucas Knight has grown up hearing the supernatural tales of the island from a gaggle of the city’s old widows. Their stories are always thrilling, but he’s never known whether to believe them or to write them off as the locals just messing with the half-gringo whose hotel-developer father is slowly destroying Puerto Rico’s beaches while lining his own pockets. One day, Lucas—while entertaining his latest attraction, Marisol—decides to test one of the widows’ myths. He taunts the lush garden of the house at the end of Calle Sol, a supposedly damned structure where a famed botanist—and the rumor of a cursed girl born of poison—live. The next day, Marisol goes missing, and soon after, her drowned body washes up upon the pristine beach. But there had been a string of these “drownings” recently, and when Lucas suddenly becomes the lead suspect in an investigation of foul play, he finds himself drawn back over and over again to the cursed house—asking for answers from the poison girl herself.
In her first novel, author Samantha Mabry extracts a fascinating, genre-bending tale in A Fierce and Subtle Poison. The novel is part native lore, part murder mystery and part romance story—all wrapped up in a humid island blanket of magical realism. Like any good enchantment, Mabry’s prose is simultaneously delicate and forceful, and the poison of this story will linger in readers’ blood for many days after turning the final page.
Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.