Tony Bailie’s ‘A Verse to Murder’: Book Review

A Verse to Murder, Tony Bailie Maurice Burns’ cover merits study–it’s well chosen and ties into this mystery within, as elaborated by an informant. The title, a play off of the ‘murder of crows’, echoes in the name of Barry Crowe, a Belfast journalist (or is it ‘sleazy tabloid hack’?) pursuing the backstory behind the sudden demise, apparently by auto-asphyxiation, of Northern Ireland’s leading poet. The compromising circumstances unfold neatly in this e-book novella.

Bailie, whose Lagan Press novels The Lost Chord and Ecopunks delved into respectively gnosticism and New Age quests, continues his application of Celtic and esoteric themes into his fiction. (See also his short story via Amazon ‘Sacred Santa’ based on a family yarn; this spins Christmas in July into a relevant Northern Irish dimension. As a Belfast-based journalist (and a poet), he enjoys sending up his profession(s) and their shared pretensions. His short story ‘The Druid’s Dance’ in the recent anthology Requiems for the Departed by Irish mystery writers incorporating Celtic myth and archetypes anticipates the mood and tone of his newest tale.

Reviewing a mystery, one cannot give much away. The blurb at Amazon sums up the premise enticingly. It’s not betraying the story to admit that the set-up elaborates into, over 74 quick pages, an entry into the symbol of the spiral and the Triple Goddess of Celtic lore. Drawing on, in my ‘guesstimation’, theories of space-time and the earlier attempts of Irish writers–not only John Moriarty but forebears Denis Johnston (The Brazen Horn) and Francis Stuart (The Abandoned Snail Shell)–to plunge into the liminal, the results for Barry recall those of the warp-spasm of Cú Chulainn, and the cosmic terror that seems to cross generations and centuries as Bríd, Andrea, and Alma enter the lives of Barry and his spirited, sexy, sassy cop pal Dervla.

Phrasing sharpens: ‘curtains all along the street begin twitching in a semaphore of suburban noisiness’ updates Brinsley McNamara’s once-famous novel about a gossiping lot, in the ‘valley of squinting windows’. Rowan Tree ‘looked like a poet should do, elongated body, gaunt face, exploding hair and eyes that suggested insanity’. (May one recall Stuart or Moriarty?) Another, once-promising, poet’s eyes ‘retained the primal urgency of someone who wanted to say something but had no idea of how to say it’.

Futurist couplings of poetry as violence, ‘sexual electricity’, a jealous bard Rowan Tree’s curse in verse, hallucinogens, nods to Robert Graves and pagan rituals still alive today in the heart of the city: these exemplify the details Tony Bailie adds to enrich his narrative. If you find this enticing, you will find this efficiently conveyed but pleasingly allusive tale a pleasure. I’d like to hear more from Barry.