A Verse to Murder

Belfast's salacious literary scene provides the backdrop for Tony Bailie's latest crime story, which is short, sharp and sleazy

All that sleazy tabloid reporter Barry Crowe wants is a nice, salacious story about well-known, but fallow, Belfast poet, Daithi Devine, who has apparently been using narcotics to kick-start the creative process.

Crowe wouldn't mind a chance to get his leg-over with the punk with snot-green spikes who sold him some related information about Devine in the first place. But, unfortunately for him, before he can pester Devine into giving an interview, the renowned poet is found dead, strung up by the throat and in an unfortunate state of undress.

Convinced that there is more going on than meets the eye – and possibly feeling the natal flutter of guilt – Crowe goes digging for answers in the wordy sub-culture of literary Belfast, with the help of fading poet and college associate, Tom Macken.

For a hack of Crowe’s calibre, it doesn’t take long to discover the skeletons in the literary set's collective closet.

There’s a patron of the arts with a dirty secret, a mistress who landed Devine in the ‘loony bin’, and a mysterious muse to contend with. But did any of them hate Devine enough to want him so messily, and publically, humiliated?

Tony Bailie’s new novella, and his e-publishing debut, A Verse to Murder is a fast-paced, bare-boned thriller that sends its hero sniffing around a fictional Belfast that is, perhaps, more real than we might imagine.

Crowe is an effective but unlikeable protagonist who wheedles and sneaks his way into other characters' trust, and yet Bailie manages to infuse him with a sense of moral righteousness that keeps the reader on his side.

For anyone familiar with the Belfast literary scene, A Verse to Murder can be a kind of fun, sub-culture version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Although Bailie insists that no-one person inspired the seedy characters that inhabit A Verse to Murder, it’s hard to resist keeping an eye out for familiar faces, and making connections with real authors and poets, however far-fetched such connections may be. 

At a mere 25,000 words, A Verse to Murder is a minimalist read. Bailie doesn’t allow himself the space to provide more then the essentials of any plot, but in a lot of ways that works well. As a result, A Verse to Murder is easily absorbed – one for the train ride into work, perhaps.

It’s not necessarily a simple tale though. Bailie utilizes some poetically elegant language (fittingly, since he is also a poet) and introduces some esoteric, philosophic ideas at the heart of the plot that should provide for fans of his other novels, such as 2010's Ecopunks. However, A Verse to Murder is linear, making it easy to keep up with Crowe’s hurried investigation.

There are places where a slight extension of the word count might have helped anchor the story more effectively. Crowe’s task is a bit too straightforward at times, and Bailie manages to get him from point A to point C with only one skinny red herring for him to trip over.

Expedience also pushes other characters to the edge of proceedings. In particular, the romance between Crowe and one of the supporting characters seems rather shoe-horned in. A Verse to Murder is, nevertheless, a fun, witty little crime story that is the perfect introductory volume to Bailie’s other works.

A Verse to Murder is available now on Kindle.