Death Comes for the Poets
by Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams

Two poets of high repute, Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams, have written a hilarious satire on the claustrophobic world of poetry, its bitter rivalries bubbling under the cover of polite support, its jockeying for recognition and the relentless round of poetry workshops with their accompanying sexual flings. The book begins with the well known laureate, Fergus Diver, dying in agony after a meal in an Indian restaurant. Bad hygiene? Or something more sinister? Victor Priest, art detective, is asked by Diver’s widow to investigate. He hires a young man and his Glaswegian girl-friend to help. This couple must rank as one of the funniest creations in detective fiction.

A series of murders follows, all of well known poets, an Irish poet is thrown into the sea by an elegant blonde who claims to be an obituarist; an English poetess is assassinated in the cupola of the Reichstag, a Scottish poet dies in agony on an island. What is remarkable about these deaths is that the poets are being murdered in a way that reflects the style of their poems. The entire literary world is in uproar.

A car bomb discovered in Victor Priest’s car provides the answer to the riddle, and a desperate confrontation takes place in a moonlit bay along the southern coast of England.

316 pages
210 x 148 mm
ISBN 078-0-9572136-0-9

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'Death Comes for the Poets,  is a real delight, tipping its cap towards Agatha Christie and recent Nordic crime fiction. There's an element of hoax and pastiche about this book, an hilarious black comedy which spoofs the current poetry scene with merciless satire and savage perception. Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams must have had a lot of fun putting this book together. Poets are being murdered in a variety of bizarre but "appropriate" situations - the opening chapter partly staged in a Maidstone Indian restaurant sets the scene with grotesque humour - and an organisation known as Artcrimes, run by the suave and sophisticated closet poet Victor Priest, swings into action. London lad about town Joe Biggs and his Scottish girlfriend Naily Dunbar are brought in to help and there's also a strange comic book hero, Bard Slayer, to further complicate the plot.'

- Steve Spencer

'Death Comes For The Poets is a cleverly plotted, well-written, entertaining and outrageously comic novel, at once roman-a-clef and spoof roman noir, in which the poets Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams arrange for condign deaths to be visited on a number of poets who are, as it were, brought to book in the novel's closing pages: an anthology which, in offering examples of each dead writer's work, proves to be a not-always distorting mirror of current poetic styles.'

- John Lucas 


About the Authors

Matthew Sweeney has published nine collections of poetry, two of which were short listed for the TS Eliot Prize, and one for the Forward Prize. He has also published three collections of poetry for children. A selected poems came out from Cape in 2002, and in 2010 Salt published The Night Post: A New Selection. His most recent collection was Black Moon (Cape, 2007), and a new collection, Horse Music, is forthcoming from Bloodaxe early in 2013. He has edited or co-edited a number of poetry anthologies, including, with Jo Shapcott, Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (Faber, 1996).

John Hartley Williams has published twelve full collections of poetry, two of which were short listed for the TS Eliot Prize. His most recent publications are: Assault on the Clouds, Shoestring Press, 2012; Less of That W Or I’ll Z You! Surrealist Editions (Leeds), 2011; Hex Wheels, Hans van Ejk at the Bonnefant Press, Holland, 2011; A Poetry Inferno, Shoestring Press, 2011; Café des Artistes. Jonathan Cape, 2009. In 2010 he published a collection of Berlin poems to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall: Outpost Theatre. (The Bonnefant Press, Holland). A reader-friendly guide to the writing of poetry called Teach Yourself Poetry, co-written with Matthew Sweeney, is now available in a third (revised) edition from Hodder.