Dathai Devine, a well known Irish poet, is found dead in dubious circumstances – apparently by his own hand whilst fulfilling a less than salubrious sexual act and under the influence of narcotics. Enter Barry Crowe, investigative journalist, who pursues Dathai’s sad story. En route he meets Dathai’s muses, a policewoman with a bondage fetish, a drunken fellow poet and lesbians with the same odd tattoo on their inner thigh. It’s not long before Barry begins to suspect that there’s more to Dathai’s death than initially meets the eye.
This was a difficult read for a whole range of reasons. Besides the multiple formatting errors (see below) A Verse To Murder was more like a radio play than a novel – heavily weighted towards dialogue after an often cursory introductory description at the beginning of each chapter. This meant there was very little sense of character, place or activity. The story is supposed to occur in Belfast, however it could have been anywhere.
The plot was often disjointed, for example the book opens with Barry supposedly having a dream (I think), before the police turn up at his flat and awaken him. A Chief Inspector Hamilton then explains Dathai is dead under suspicious circumstances before the narrative inexplicably switches to Barry in conversation with a punk girl, Sally (“But don’t tell my friends that,” she says – why?) who appears out of nowhere to politely inform Barry she’d recently sold Dathai some mind bending substances. Although this meeting occurs chronologically after Barry has been to the scene of the crime it appears (that word again) in the book before Barry is described as having arrived at the scene of the crime. Confused? I was, and this was only the first chapter.
This sudden appearance of characters continues throughout. For example, a policewoman on duty outside Dathai’s house (where the body was discovered) Barry claims to ‘vaguely recognise’ but within a page or two she is back in his flat and naked. Only by chance is she introduced as Dervla with no explanation (ever) as to where Barry knows her from. He also meets a friend, Tom Macken, himself a faded poet and some sort of female consort of Tom’s - again only pages later do we learn her name is Moira.
The story leaps around with little attempt at explaining what happens and why (because of the bias to dialogue). To a person the characters are flaccid, they all walk around in a daze and although Barry seems to have never met most of them before, he needs no effort to bend them to his will and they passively tell Barry everything. For example one of Dathai’s muses, Andrea de Burca, is being blackmailed, this apparently went on for 15 years without her making any attempt to find out who it was or report it to the police. Really?
This isn’t the only event that defies belief. At one point Barry is shot in the head at point blank range and he goes through an odd out of body experience. However, he somehow gets away with just a graze (unfortunately). Even the eventual murderer makes barely a credible appearance before being revealed.
On layout the book was badly formatted with a line break between each and every paragraph. I had to force my eye to skip over these which made for uncomfortable reading. There were also numbers randomly inserted throughout the text and inexplicable tabs were present that forced sentences onto new lines. There were often repetitions of the same word, for example:
“I’m a journalist, said Barry. “I wanted to interview him.”
“Yes I know you are a journalist. What did you want to interview him about?”
“That’s right, he’s a poet and I wanted to interview him about his poems.”
Oddest of all were when rather than actual speech the following were incorporated:
“…?” or “…!”
I’ve no idea what these are supposed to mean although the characters seemed to.
I really struggled to see a single redeeming feature about A Verse To Murder. Oh yes, it was mercifully short.
Rating? One Star
Would add this to my bookshelf? Categorically No
**Originally reviewd on Books & Pals blog.**