Bestselling novel toes the line between fact and fiction
In truth, the novel – “Under Current Conditions” – is a fictionalized version of a tumultuous nineweek period in Darcy’s life. But since he intersected with Shelley Tyre, the woman Swain was once convicted of murdering, her story is an important element of his tale – particularly one meaningful conversation close to the end of her life.
Darcy grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He got a degree in civil engineering from the University of Ulster. In 1989, when Northern Ireland was torn with sectarian conflict, Darcy came to Boston with his wife and young son. “Under Current Conditions” is his first book.
By 1999, Darcy’s son was in the eighth grade at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass. The principal at the school was Tyre. Darcy had his own construction company and it landed a contract that called for the installation of a raceway on the Jamestown Bridge. It would allow fiber-optic cable to be run from North Kingstown to Jamestown.
The contract came with a great deal of pressure on Darcy. His marital life began to suffer and he was forced to move out of his home. It was then that he paid a visit to Thayer Academy, seeking permission from Tyre to spend some time with his son off campus. He had met Tyre before – in her capacity as his son’s teacher and principal – but on that day the conversation took on an ominous tone.
As Darcy began to explain the stress he was under and describe the project he was working on, Tyre told him she lived in James- town, something Darcy had not known. He would have never imagined – the commute seemed too long. It was then that Tyre uttered the words that would come to haunt Darcy.
“I know what it’s like to be in a troubled relationship,” she said.
Darcy met Tyre on March 3. Two days later, Tyre announced she was resigning from her post at Thayer. She went off to the British Virgin Islands for a scuba-diving holiday with her husband, David Swain. Swain was a one-time Town Council member in Jamestown, and the owner of a local scuba shop.
Tyre never returned from the trip.
Everyone in Jamestown knows the story, and thanks to CBS News, everyone across the country knows it as well. At first authorities ruled Tyre’s death an accident, but in 2006, a verdict in a civil case in the United States found Swain culpable in his wife’s death.
Soon after, police in Tortola reopened the case. Swain was tried and convicted for murder in 2009. Two years later the verdict was overturned on appeal. Swain returned to Rhode Island in late 2011.
But that’s only part of Darcy’s story. Shortly after meeting with Tyre, the stress finally got to him. He had rented a room in a Boston hotel, one night looking for rest and relaxation, but it turned into two weeks. It was there that he suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up spending two weeks in a mental institution. When he got out, he learned that Tyre had died on March 12, nine days after they met.
“Because of her conversation with me privately, it never sat well with in my stomach that it was an accident,” Darcy said. “It tore at me. That, plus what happened to me during those nine weeks, was the impetus for me to tell the story.”
What happened to Darcy sounds like something out of a movie. While he was staying in the hotel, he met an attorney who helped him after he was institutionalized. As it turned out, the attorney had ties to people who were running guns to Northern Ireland. He was later indicted in a murder-for-hire sting. Predictably for a crime story that takes place in Boston, Whitey Bulger plays a part in the proceedings as well.
All of that became fodder for “Under Current Conditions,” and influenced his decision to fictionalize the story. A couple of years later, Darcy’s company folded. He took a job with another contractor, which freed up some time for him to write.
“I thought I should tell that story because Shelley can’t tell the story,” Darcy said. “That conversation resonated with me, and I wanted to tell the story, and the story of what happened to me.”
Darcy began writing the book in 2002 and by 2007 he had 180,000 words. He was ready to start editing when Swain was indicted for murder and extradited to the British Virgin Islands. Darcy realized the story wasn’t finished and he would have to wait until the trial played out. When Swain was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Darcy released the first edition of the book.
The book was published at the end of 2010 and was an immediate success. It reached the Boston Globe bestsellers list, but just as it did, the company that published “Under Current Conditions” folded, leaving no promotional support for the book. More recently, Darcy has self-published a paperback second edition of the book, this time with a page added to cover the overturning of the Swain conviction.
Darcy said there are two reasons he wrote the book as fiction. First, he didn’t want his hands to be tied in regard to getting every fact right, which is pertinent in nonfiction work. Second, he felt the attorney who is at the center of the story is such an intriguing character, he might return for future books.
He changed the name of that character, as well as his own, but the names of David Swain and Shelley Tyre remain.