Showing posts with label Crime and Punishment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crime and Punishment. Show all posts

13 November 2018

To Read or Not to Read: the Reviews of Your Books

by Paul D. Marks 

From the truth in advertising department: I did this piece a few years ago at a different blog. I think it’s worth repeating. But the main reason I’m doing that is because I’m having major computer issues and it’s hard to work on my computer. I hope we have these issues worked out over the next few days. Believe me, I’m ready to CENSORED.

And I want to say that I hope everyone had a good Veterans Day and that we actually stopped to remember what it was for.

So, how do I react to negative reviews? 

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

Even big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of his version of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric and rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:

So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ’bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book…if they really did? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, we do.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

Reviews of The Big Sleep: 

One Star, boring 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase

"The book is a big sleep." (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.) 

One Star 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase


Reviews of Crime and Punishment: 

One Star 
By Amazon Customer
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Very slow & plodding." (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

Too long 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on."

Reviews of 1984: 

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase

"I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope." (Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.) 

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
...must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than 'Catcher and the Rye'" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher and the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.) 


Damn! I’m hungry now. So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.


And now for the usual BSP:

I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, which just came out this week. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon a few weeks ago. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.

And I’m even more thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

26 September 2013

Born Bad. Or Not.

by Eve Fisher

I am, hopefully, on vacation for the next two weeks (mostly off-line), so here's something to chew on for a while.

Many people think philosophy is an esoteric subject, a plaything, a hobby, irrelevant to daily life: but the one place where the rubber hits the philosophical road is when it comes to criminal justice.  Basically, there are only two theories of how human beings tick:  (1) we're born bad; (2) we're not.  In the Western World, these were the (classical - not current!) Conservative v. Liberal views.  In Asia, this is Legalism v. Confucianism.  In every world, it's the divide between (1) those who believe that human beings need to be kept under tight control, with strong laws and punishments and (2) those who believe that humans respond well to education, encouragement, rehabilitation.  Original sin; good at heart.

This is more than a question of religion or philosophy.  It's also a question of laws.  The idea of  "innocent until proven guilty" was first postulated in Ancient Rome - but it did not apply to slaves, which were a large percentage of the population (some calculations say 40% during the height of the Empire).  And in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, it crumbled entirely, as crime became linked with sin, and the general impression was that, at the very least, if accused, you had to undergo some kind of trial to prove your innocence.  Walk on burning coals; drink contaminated water; hold a red-hot poker for a certain length of time; sink when thrown in the water.  If you were innocent, your burns would heal without festering, you would not become ill or die from the water, and someone would fish you out before you drowned.  If your burns went gangrenous, if the water made you sick, or if you floated, you were guilty, and you would be punished, usually by death.  It wasn't until Cesare Beccaria's 1764 book "Of Crime & Punishment", that sin and crime were unlinked, with the idea that perhaps sometimes you stole because you were hungry, not because you were evil.  He said some fairly radical stuff:  that the corruption and injustice of society could provoke criminal activity, that punishment should lead to rehabilitation, and that capital punishment should be abolished.  Yes, he was a softie.  He was also the first to be called a "socialist" - although it didn't have today's connotations.

In the East, in Asia, Confucius (551-479 BCE) said that men were educable, and perfectable.  That we are indeed born good at heart, and as such persuasion and education were what was needed.  (This did not apply to women or servants:  "if you are too familiar with them, they grow insolent; if you are too distant with them, they grow resentful."  Awwww....)  He was a great believer in benevolence (ren), ritual a/k/a in correct behavior (li), and, of course, filial piety (xiao).  Perfect fidelity to these three things would lead to a perfect man, from whom one could find the perfect rulers, including that elusive philosopher king that everyone since Plato has been seeking.  Confucius was the basis of almost all Chinese education, political science, economics, and law until Mao's Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.  And there was a resurgence after the death of Mao. 

Confucius' antithesis was Legalism, which argued that men are basically selfish, fundamentally amoral, and barely worth the trouble of ruling them.  One of the chief Legalist philosophers, Han Fei Zi (280-233 BCE), said that the purpose of government was to serve the interests of the ruler, because men were such beasts they couldn't recognize good government when they saw it.  (We have a local civic leader that likes to remind everyone that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy, and thus we don't have to be told everything that's going on...  Legalism lives.)  Legalism was enthroned by the Qin Shihuangdi Emperor (ruled 221-207 BCE), who was the great unifier of China in everything from land to language to weights and measures and, in addition, built most of the Great Wall of China.  The Qin Emperor tried to wipe out Confucianism, with massive book burnings and slaughter of scholars.  And, under his rule, the idea of collective responsibility was made a permanent part of Chinese law:  if you committed - or were accused of - a crime, your entire family, perhaps your entire clan, was shamed, arrested, tortured, and/or killed as deemed appropriate by the authorities.  After all, if they had raised you better, you'd never have become a criminal.

Collective responsibility may seem extreme, but when you think about it, it's universal.  Privately, who would want to be the relative of the Unabomber?  Arial Castro?  Ted Bundy?  There are all sorts of people wrestling with the shame of having a family member in prison.  (For that matter, even in our enlightened age, there's a whole range of things, like mental illness and addiction, that still carry a stigma, and not just for the sufferer.)  And then there are the "good wives" who stand by their man (and, I'm sure, also "good husbands" who stand by their wives, though they don't get the press), and nowadays have to defend that decision... 

And then, nationally:  How long will the Germans be guilty for the Holocaust and WWII?  What Germans who were alive at that time could claim innocence?  How about the Japanese during WWII, with comfort women and concentration camps and Unit 731?  What level of culpability do the people of a nation hold for that nation's acts?  And for how long?  Is there an expiration date on slavery, or war, or genocide? 

Cruel and unusual punishments:  what's the definition?  Was the 17th century idea of execution for everything, including stealing a handkerchief, excessive?  Is no death penalty unbelievably soft?  (Norway, for example, reinstated the death penalty to execute Vidkun Quisling and other WW2 Nazis, and then promptly re-abolished it.)  Today the United States is the greatest incarcerator and last Western country with capital punishment (some states with an express lane, others abolishing it)...

It all depends on whether you think people are capable of rehabilitation or not.  If people are born bad, well, why not kill criminals?  If people are born good, though, and we do not pursue rehabilitation (turning, for example, to for-profit prisons) what does that say about what we really believe?  Or are willing to do?  This isn't about history, it isn't really even about crime:  it's about philosophy.  What we believe.