"modern masterpiece"
September 3, 2012 5:38 AM   Subscribe

RJ Ellory's secret Amazon reviews anger rivals. [guardian.co.uk] "Crime bestseller caught using sock puppets to trash colleagues and hymn his own 'magnificent' work." Under the pseudonym "Nicodemus Jones":
"All I will say is that there are paragraphs and chapters that just stopped me dead in my tracks," he wrote. "Some of it was chilling, some of it raced along, some of it was poetic and langorous and had to be read twice and three times to really appreciate the depth of the prose … it really is a magnificent book."
posted by Fizz (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
… it really is a magnificent crook book."
posted by Fizz at 5:44 AM on September 3, 2012


Crime writer proves ineffective at forgery and deception.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:47 AM on September 3, 2012 [27 favorites]


A serendipitous treat...Delicious. - Brak
posted by ostranenie at 5:48 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what Scott Adams will have to say about this.
posted by Optamystic at 5:56 AM on September 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


I must admit, if he had only posted glowing reviews of his own stuff, I'd probably see him as a bit of a loveable buffoon. Certainly, I can understand the temptation. It only takes a few glib rationalisations ('oh, everyone else is doing it', 'I have other five star reviews already, so I'm only supporting what others have said', 'well, these are my genuine opinions') to push you over the edge, and when you've done it once, well, why not five times, why not spread the work to other sites? I absolutely understand that surreptitiously praising your own work is wrong and damages the credibility of honest reviews by strangers, but still. I can empathise.

But badmouthing the work of peers under a pseudonym just seems inexcusable. For a start, readers are less sceptical of bad reviews than good ones - after all, an author wouldn't secretly attack their own work. Indeed, several posters on the Blue have talked about how they look to the one bad Amazon review as a far more reliable index of a novel's true worth.

Maybe the one good thing to come out of all this will be a pushback towards old-fashioned well-written long-form reviews from trusted sources. Or is that ludicrously optimistic?
posted by RokkitNite at 6:00 AM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is like if Sly Stallone were to wear a disguise to purchase dozens of extra tickets to Rocky Balboa in order to covertly drive up box office receipts; in the end, when the Four Horsemen are here and people are fighting to the death for one more mouthful of nourishing roadkill, no one will give a shit.
posted by item at 6:02 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whenever I read reviews on amazon (more and more rare) I will usually read the first few 5 star reviews and then I'll click on a few in the middle to get a feel for what people have to say.

To be honest though, I trust a select group of my peers far more than I trust public opinion when it comes to reviews.
posted by Fizz at 6:03 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am tempted to very tepidly review all of his books for justice.
posted by jaduncan at 6:08 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Dreaded Amazon Breast Curve
posted by Artw at 6:11 AM on September 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I imagine we'll see less of this as more authors realise they can just pay other people to do the same.
posted by honest knave at 6:22 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


in the end, when the Four Horsemen are here and people are fighting to the death for one more mouthful of nourishing roadkill, no one will give a shit.

No, this sort of thing matters. I have a finite number of days between now and then, and I'd rather not spend them in a world where people act like selfish, self-important bag of dicks because o hey in the long run what does it matter.

Mortality is not an asshole license.
posted by mhoye at 6:22 AM on September 3, 2012 [33 favorites]


I've read all of double block and bleed's previous comments. I like this one best of all. This commenter has a dry wit and eloquent style that I find lacking in many other Metafilter comments. Once I started reading them, I just couldn't put it down. Truly a spell-binder. I wish I could award more than 5 stars.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:23 AM on September 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'd hazard a guess that this kind of thing is going on ALL THE TIME. But hey, he's a writer, with an avid imagination. Why wouldn't/shouldn't he extend his fiction into the Amazon realm?
posted by 0bvious at 6:23 AM on September 3, 2012


Hmm... An idea...

1. PublIsh large body of work on Amazon
2. Create an ARG like series of dueling reviews between overly positive and overly negative reviewer. Give them strange and distinct quirks. Maybe they know each other somehow?
3. Out the positive reviewer, wait for internet shitstorm
4. Just as the shitstorm is about to peak out the negative reviewer
5. Publicity!
6. Profit???
posted by Artw at 6:28 AM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]



The Dreaded Amazon Breast Curve


I'm less inclined to beat up on the author, who I am sure is feeling completely embarrassed (or grouchy that he had the bad luck to get caught, instead of the thousands of other authors who are all doing the same thing), and more inclined to roll my eyes at Amazon for having such an openly fraudulent system in place with no efforts to weed out bad reviews. Not bad meaning one star -- bad meaning useless, or paid for, or by the author, or done by a bunch of fifth graders as a class assignment.

Like that "breast curve" graphic shows, you can tell a lot just from the histogram of the reviews; it would be a simple endeavor for Amazon to look at the text of the reviews to filter out the bad ones. Even removing 80 percent of the useless reviews would improve things enormously.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops, hit post too fast.

So right now they have a system in place that rewards low-quality and fraudulent reviews, and creates every incentive for an author to do things like this (or pay for reviews, etc). It's the system that is bad, not the person who looks at it and makes the rational choice to follow the incentives.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on September 3, 2012


Well, thats every review system ever, TBH - If you have an effective mechanism to stop it you'd be both a hero and (hopefully) very rich.
posted by Artw at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2012


TBH - If you have an effective mechanism to stop it you'd be both a hero and (hopefully) very rich.

"This guy is an asshole, don't buy from him."
posted by Fizz at 6:44 AM on September 3, 2012


Tangential to the main issue, but I'm astonished that, despite having a blog and a website, Jeremy Duns posted his 750 word, 4300 character article about Ellory's sockpuppet reviews on Twitter.

Can anyone explain why a blog post and then a few headline tweets linking to it wouldn't have been better in every possible way?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:54 AM on September 3, 2012


I wonder what Scott Adams will have to say about this.

No idea, but I know lots and lots of people will agree with him.
posted by Malor at 6:58 AM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


That article is full of idiots.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:22 AM on September 3, 2012


All of which is less silly then the '70s when Clark was the 6pm news anchor for Galaxy TV.

Well, Galaxy was a front for Intergang and Darkseid, for a start...
posted by Artw at 7:22 AM on September 3, 2012


I think it's time to scrap the internet and start over.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:24 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted; let's not have a Givewell derail. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 7:28 AM on September 3, 2012


"Duns has also been helping put together an open letter from writers slamming the practice, which has been signed by names including Child, Rankin, Billingham, Val McDermid, Harris, Tony Parsons, Roger McGough, Peter James, Charlie Higson, Mo Hayder, Linwood Barclay, Andrew Taylor, Michael Connelly and others."
Unfortunately, all of the signatures turned out to be by Jeremy Duns.
posted by moonmilk at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


in the end, when the Four Horsemen are here and people are fighting to the death for one more mouthful of nourishing roadkill, no one will give a shit.

Is that the barometer for we're using for importance now? I guess things are looking up for that post I've been working on about where to scavenge canned food and how to locate puddles of uncontaminated water.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:43 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is that the barometer for we're using for importance now? I guess things are looking up for that post I've been working on about where to scavenge canned food and how to locate puddles of uncontaminated water.

Depends on whether R J Ellory has a competing post.
posted by Hobo at 8:03 AM on September 3, 2012


Perhaps it's because they're already inside and at a computer, but many writers are really into using social media and online resources to pimp themselves. And perhaps it's because they're writers, but every few months one of them is caught doing something ludicrous and self-defeating.

As a reader, I'm glad that writers I enjoy are nominally more accessible. Many of them are funny. Some, like M. John Harrison, can casually throw up some very moody and thoughtful prose that I'd otherwise never read.

And then there are the writers whose online presence becomes awkward and regretable. It's like the family arriving for a big dinner. Everyone walks in, and there's your uncle. Lying on the table. He's drunk, naked and he's tearfully shouting at a bowl of mashed turnips that it ruined his chances of selling that car. Too many writers become that uncle. It's a bad marketing strategy.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since it is another example of very similar behavior in a very similar context, Givewell comments would be anything but a derail.
posted by jamjam at 9:09 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is that the barometer for we're using for importance now? I guess things are looking up for that post I've been working on about where to scavenge canned food and how to locate puddles of uncontaminated water.

"Today in Survivor Breakfast: how to tell when human flesh is infested with The Sickness.

At 9 o'clock EST, or "sun slightly risen", Martha Stewart will show us how to bring a homely touch to your shelter by raiding card shops."
posted by jaduncan at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would read ApocalypseFilter.
posted by notionoriety at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2012


I don't like the positive reviews he posted under a pseudonym, but at least I can sympathize a little with that Authors are encouraged, even pressured, to use social media to connect with their fans and give themselves an online presence, and I could see a writer--especially an author who specializes in fictional works--maybe getting carried away and posting, basically, as if he were a character in one of his own books. It's unethical, but at least understandable.

The negative reviews of his peers, though, raise this to another level. That's just petty and vindictive.

Ironically, they likely worked against his own interests even before he was caught, because fans of a certain genre will read just about anything they can get their hands on within that genre, so it is not as if those other authors are taking his prospective fans away. They actually could be bringing new fans into the fold that would enjoy his works as well. And of course, writing scathing reviews of his contemporaries only drew their attention to what he was doing with all those pseudonyms.

Had he also written positive reviews of other crime fiction writers, this probably never would even have come to light. I find that little piece of irony deeply satisfying, as this outing is just the comeuppance he deserves for his petty sniping. It's enough to make me believe in karma.
posted by misha at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2012


I'm less inclined to beat up on the author, who I am sure is feeling completely embarrassed (or grouchy that he had the bad luck to get caught

Well it wasn't bad luck, he was signing the reviews with his own name and logging in as himself so it was really not giving enough of a damn to take care. I like reading amazon reviews but I only read them after I've finished a book, is that weird?
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2012


I'm surprised the word reputation, or "reputation system" hasn't turned up in this discussion yet. One is always around the corner but it never quite seems to happen. Which is probably just as well because if it does I'm pretty confident it'll happen in a horrible, horrible way: God help us it'll probably be hosted and based on the closest thing we have to a global identity system on the internet: Facebook.

Anyway, I was looking at some SF books yesterday and without even making a conscious decision I refused to read reviews on Amazon. In part because of spoilers, in part because the stupid is strong on Amazon, but mostly because I simply don't trust the reviews to have any value to me. So I'm trying to bookmark review sites with a relatively small cast of long-term reviewers -- preferably invitation-only -- with clearly discernible review histories and reputations. We need something like this. AskMe here I come.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2012


Aha. That's roughly the question I was going to ask, and it's recent enough.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:07 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


when the Four Horsemen are here and people are fighting to the death for one more mouthful of ourishing wroadkill, no one will give a shit.

Cormac McCarthy, get the fuck outta here.
posted by benzenedream at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cormac McCarthy, get the fuck outta here.

Shoulda called it On The Road.
posted by jaduncan at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2012


No relation.

I like reading amazon reviews but I only read them after I've finished a book, is that weird?


Not really. Plenty of them are written before the reviewer has even read the book.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:10 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with Amazon Reviews goes farther than that. It's easy enough to say, "Reviewers should be accountable", but in order to do that, reviews would have to be linked to real names somewhere down the line, putting reviewers' account information at risk.

That same privacy/security vs anonymity conflict is what makes Facebook et al so annoying to those of us who don't want the entirety of our lives open to potential identity thieves.
posted by misha at 3:05 PM on September 3, 2012


...Ellory wrote the MacBride review under the pseudonym Nicodemus Jones, but later in the conversation began posting as RJ Ellory, in a continuation of the discussion. "Nicodemus Jones" also repeatedly signs himself as "Roger" in another discussion, in which he writes that "I won the Nouvel Observateur prize last year for AQBIA [A Quiet Belief in Angels]".
A bestselling crime writer, you say?
posted by hoople at 4:28 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


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