Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Reviewer’s Take on Events

As a reviewer for Crimesquad.com I have been watching recent events unfolding with an ever increasing sense of wonderment and disillusion. Ever since that fateful panel at The Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July I have watched as discovery after discovery has been unearthed.

I like to think that I am not naïve (people who know me will be the first to attest to my cynical world view) but the amount of underhand dealings which have taken place lately have taken me by surprise and have led to no small amount of soul searching with regards to my own position as a reviewer.

I won’t bore you by repeating wjhat others have said. All I will do is share my opinions on the situation. First I want to clarify my position in relation to the names involved in the current storm.

The Investigators
  • I met Jeremy Duns over dinner at an event at Harrogate two years ago and have his latest book in my “to be read & reviewed pile”.
  • I have met Steve Mosby at Harrogate over the last couple of years and while I have never read any of his books I have found him to be a decent person and good company.
  • David Hewson is an author whose work I have read for years and I have never had any kind of lengthy conversation with him so cannot comment on his character.


The Villains
  • I met Stephen Leather at Harrogate both last year and this year and have enjoyed his company on both occasions. This year I spoke to him both before and after the panel. I have read his books for going on twenty years now and I admire him as a writer.
  • I met Roger Ellory two years ago and had a very brief conversation. He seemed okay to me and was warm and funny. I haven’t read any of his books.
  • John Locke is an author who had never crossed my radar until the storm about his review purchasing broke.
  • Sam Millar and Matt Lynn are two authors who I have never met or heard of until their names surfaced from the mire.

The Victims
  • Steve Roach is not someone I know in any way shape or form.
  • Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham are two people who have been attacked by Roger (RJ) Ellory and I have met MacBride and Billingham every year at Harrogate. Both have granted me interviews and taken the time to talk to me otherwise. Again I read both of these authors both before and after becoming a reviewer and I plan to read their next books as well.
  • Matt Hilton is an author I first met at Harrogate in 2009 and he has become a friend as he lives fairly local to me and I have hosted him at my hotel and supported any local events he has participated in. I have read all his Joe Hunter series.
  • Stuart Neville is an author who I have heard a lot of good thing about but never had chance to read. 
After reading the many articles on blogs and now the newspapers I have come up with the following conclusions.

  • I’m glad my own books only have genuine reviews from people who have read them.
  • Reviews are now tainted in the eyes of the public.
  • Readers are going to stick to authors known to them from previous works as they may not want to take the chance as they will not trust reviews on authors who are unknown to them.
  • Publishers and organisations such as the ITW and CWA can make all the rules and standards that they want but the unscrupulous authors out there will either self publish, ePublish or simply stay totally independent. The people who would follow diktats from the publishing houses and organisations are those who do not need to be governed.
  • Writing a good review for your own book isn’t good. Deliberately attacking others under a pseudonym is definitely bad.
  • Writing reviews and circulating them to a circle of people to post for you isn’t good.
  • Friends and family members posting reviews will happen. If done from an independent desire to help then this is acceptable.
  • Offering free copies of your book in any format in exchange for reviews is acceptable only if the reviewer is allowed to rate the book honestly.
  • Buying reviews is low and a discredit to us honest reviewers who review out of a love for the genre.
  • Authors who deliberately set out to defame other authors are wasting their talents & time with infantile behaviour when they could be writing.
  • Authors who have been the victims of such malicious behaviour should receive public apologies from the people who targeted them.
  • The publishing houses along with Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Nobles, Smashwords etc. should find a way of limiting ways authors can engage in such behaviour.
  • Sockpuppets are for entertaining kids, not for online skulduggery. Grow up and log off.

As I said earlier in this post I have thought long and hard about my own position as a reviewer. I have always reviewed with an honest eye. I give my own opinion forward, not one I think they want me to give and if I have nothing nice to say then I say nothing. My reviews either go to my Crimesquad.com editor or to Amazon & Goodreads. I don’t submit reviews to both for the same book.

I plan to carry on with my reviewing but I know from conversations with other reviewers that I am not the only person who has felt like stopping reviewing. Personally I believe that to quit because of this storm is akin to letting the bad boys win.

Harlan Coben is attributed with the most telling quote “I don’t need others to fail for me to succeed”.

Oh yeah nearly forgot.

I am hosting a weekend of crime writing courses which culminates in a chance to pitch to an agent. Follow the link. http://www.themill.co.uk/crime-writing-courses



  1. I can confirm from personal experience that Graham Smith's reviews are scrupulously honest. I've been thrilled with the glowing praise he's given some of my books, and while I can't say I've been equally thrilled by some of his criticism of my work, nevertheless I respect him for expressing an honest opinion. More reviewers like Graham Smith would help restore respect for reviewers. As with authors, perhaps readers should be choosy about which reviewers they read.

  2. What lovely kind words. Thank you Leigh.

    My integrity means a lot to me as a reviewer and a person. An honest opinion is all I can offer. I may miss things which others see or vice versa. At times I've even seen things in books which weren't actually there.

    As a reviewer I strive to give a balanaced opinion of what I see before me. If a book deserves a one or two star review then I am not the person to give that review as I stop reading at around 100 pages if the book has not entertained me. Why waste time reading something you are not enjoying when there's so much good stuff out there?

    Again, thank you Leigh. It's nice to see there are others who share my point of view.

  3. Well said, Graham. It's a shameful affair. Some people need a serious word with themselves... and their cowardly personas.