Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blessed Am I Amongst Women

The internet really is a wonderful place. You hang out, you meet lovely people, you talk about blowing up hospitals and Kurt Vonnegut. That is to say, you talk about blowing up hospitals, and Kurt Vonnegut. There’ll be no exploding Kurt Vonneguts on these pages, no sirree, ma’am.
  Anyway, Alex Donald was kind enough to host me over at her Multiverse yesterday, where she asked me, among other things, about the meta-fictional elements of ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL and who influenced the novel most, which is when the name Kurt Vonnegut came up. If you’re interested, the interview can be found here
  Alex was also good enough to read and review AZC last week, with the gist of her opinion running thusly:
“Darkly funny, superbly written, meta-fictional and with more than a passing nod to Paul Auster, Flann O’Brien and (dare I say it) Chuck Palahniuk’s FIGHT CLUB, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL l fuses literary and crime fiction to create something utterly original.” - Alex Donald
  I thank you kindly, ma’am.
  Meanwhile, over on the other side of the Atlantic, Elizabeth White hosted a guest post from yours truly on her blog, in which I talked about violence in the crime novel, and how the impact of real-life violence alters what you write - or whether you write at all. It also features such searing insights into the contemporary crime novel as the following:
“Meanwhile, it’s also true that the Irish crime novel, in common with most other territories’ crime novels, has for its structure the basic three-act drama of Greek tragedy. To wit: 1) Things Are Mostly Okay; 2) Things Get Screwed Up and / or Someone Sleeps With His Mom; 3) Things Are Mostly Okay Again.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Not all the internet ladies have been so kind, of course. Over at Good Reads, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is currently thriving on a 4.29 average from 17 ratings. The average would probably be considerably higher had not one Celia Lynch, bless her cotton socks, given the book a one-star rating, even though the book’s status is ‘gave up’. Now, I know there’s absolutely no rules when it comes to internet reviewing, and that the ethics and standards that apply to professional reviewers go out the window, but isn’t it a bit much, regardless of your reviewing status, to award a rating to a book you haven’t had the courtesy to finish? Mind you, I suppose I should feel chuffed; the only other books Celia gave up on were by Joanne Harris and William Burroughs.
  Finally, and for all of you who have been waiting breathlessly for the Tuam Herald verdict on AZC - it’s in. To wit:
“While the character-coming-to-life device is clever enough, the real beauty of this book is the sharp dialogue, the witty vignettes and the well-sharpened digs. The running commentary on the state of the world is priceless … his delightfully jaundiced take on our current ‘reality’ could provide a political primer for any arriving alien unluckily enough to be beamed down here right now.” - Tuam Herald
  For the full report, including the reviewer’s appreciation of Raquel Welch in her fur bikini, clickety-click here
  Finally, this week’s reading: Paul Johnston’s THE SILVER STAIN is the latest Alex Mavros novel, is set on Crete and dabbles in the Nazi invasion of that island in 1941; it’s terrific stuff. I’m also reading THE BOOK OF JOB AS A GREEK TRAGEDY by Horace M. Kallen, which is a hoot and a half; and THE GOLDEN SCALES by Parker Bilal, a private eye tale set in contemporary Cairo that may or may not herald a wave of Egyptian hardboiled noir.
  So there you have it: this week’s AZC flummery in full. Do tune in next week, when we’ll very probably be talking about Sophia Loren, Edward Anderson’s THIEVES LIKE US, the new Donald Westlake novel from Hard Case Crime and what it was like to meet Amanda Hocking (lovely person, very unassuming, big Kurt Vonnegut fan).


Paul D Brazill said...

Celia's tastes run to 'vampires,serial killers' and 'something trashy.' Thought you'd be well in there!

Maxine said...

I use GoodReads as an archive of the books I've read- so I remember them. I award stars to them based on my own opinion. If a book is so awful that I can't finish it, I give it one star. What's wrong with that? I make an honest effort to read every book I start, and finish 98 per cent. If by page 100 I am just reading rubbish (in my opinion), one star is actually quite generous - but the system does not let you provide zero stars.

On Amazon I don't do this, as that's a bookselling site, and hence different. Good Reads is not a bookselling site but a readers' site.

In any event, I defend anyone's right to give a book they don't like/can't finish a poor rating, and a book they do like a good rating!

Sarah said...

I think 4.29 is a pretty good score on Goodreads Declan. I've only just started using the site in the last month or so but it seems to me that the system is largely weighted towards the positive, with only the 1 star option available if you don't like a book (for whatever reason).

I personally don't rate a book if I don't finish it, usually because I'm in a bad mood because I've wasted my money. But as Maxine says, it is a readers site with no (as far as I'm aware) influence from publishers etc.

Declan Burke said...

Maxine - "If a book is so awful that I can't finish it, I give it one star. What's wrong with that?"

Well, firstly, you know what you're talking about when it comes to books, so maybe you're entitled.

Ultimately, though, and kidding aside, this kind of thing is the reason why the print media, say, doesn't take on-line reviewing seriously. And for me that's a real shame, because there's a lot of good reviewers and reviewing sites / blogs out there. Trouble is, there's also a hell of a lot of morons who haven't a clue about what constitutes good writing, let alone what constitutes best practice when it comes to reviewing, and yet their opinions are considered equally valid.

Of course, the truth is that I'm cheesed off about all of this because I secretly know that Celia of the one-star 'gave up' verdict is right. And the truth hurts, y'know? Boo. And indeed, hoo.

Cheers, Dec

Maxine said...

Yeah, most "print media" deal with most books by simply omitting to review them at all!

To turn it around to focus on authors,lots of authors, good to dreadful, are using the internet to promote their books because the print media (their publisher) does not promote them/have marketing budget etc. To me it seems churlish at best for authors to sneer at internet reviews in return (did you see Jim Thompson's recent post at International Crime Authors for example - don't know if the irony of him using this "amateur" format to snobbily dismiss internet reviewers had occurred to him, or that he offers his book to internet review sites (unsolicited) for review.

Every day in my inbox I receive offers of books from authors, publishers etc. Most days at least one comes through my letterbox unsolicited. It makes me laugh when I then see authors writing posts complaining about the consequences! (I don't mean you particularly, really -- the pushy in private/petulant in public author is very common).

I just think authors should shut up, basically. If someone on the internet does not have what you call a "valid" opinion, ignore it.

crimeficreader said...

"Trouble is, there's also a hell of a lot of morons who haven't a clue about what constitutes good writing, let alone what constitutes best practice when it comes to reviewing, and yet their opinions are considered equally valid."
Yes, by some idiotic publishing people, agents and authors who think any PR is good PR. It's not. People can spot tripe if they care to do more than skim. Sadly, time is not applied and leeches seep through, but sensible readers will notice.
Good luck with the book, Declan. I see plenty of fine reviews out there for it.

Declan Burke said...

Maxine / Rhian - I think there might actually be a post in this. When I started blogging and reviewing, the big buzz was that rather than the sermons to the pews kind of lecture readers had to put up with from conventional media, readers could get involved, and make it a peer-to-peer conversation. Which is largely what has happened, I think. Except writers are still being left out of the conversation.

I'm entirely conflicted here, of course, because I'm a reader and a writer, and a reviewer on-line as well as in print.

Meanwhile, and at the risk of being obsequious, both of you are very good examples of on-line reviewers who take what you do very seriously, and write accordingly. It's evident even from your responses here that you're both thoughtful and measured when you put electronic pen to paper.

I think the issue writers have is that many on-line reviewers confuse their opinion with worth; that is, if they like something it's good, and if they don't, it isn't. I know that reviewing anything is essentially a subjective business, but it does help to have an awareness of that, and try as best you can to adjust for that.

Anyway, I'm getting bogged down here. Ta for the feedback, folks.

Cheers, Dec

Maxine said...

Just for the record, I don't write reviews for "peer to peer" conversation with the authors. I'm interested in the book not the author, and in discussing it with other people who have read it. I am not interested in joining in with any kind of author PR party. I write my reviews as honest comment, nothing to do with the personality of the author- I'd rather not know.

Declan Burke said...

When I say peer-to-peer conversations, I'm talking about those between readers - and writers and reviewers are, after all, readers first and foremost. In other words, that the conversation(s) about books become more democratic, and less likely to be directed by a particular agenda. The rise and rise of crime fiction blogs is a good example of this, given that many newspapers, if they do cover crime fiction, tend to ghettoise it.

I have very little interest in author's personalities, or about anything about them other than the books they produce (Absolute Zero Cool is in part a spoof of this).

With my writer's hat on, and speaking only for myself, I'd very much rather that I was able to write books and not have to engage with the self-promotion that's an integral part of being a writer these days. Of course, with my reader's hat on, I love blogging and / or interacting with other readers. Again, I have to admit to being conflicted here.

But this kicked off with me moaning about a negative 'review', and I should clarify here. When I was still young and dynamic and playing football, I hated to lose, even while appreciating that you can't win them all. And it's a cliche, but true nonetheless, than you always learned more from a loss than a win; which translates as, a writer will always learn more from a negative review than a positive one, if he or she is prepared to listen. But (back to football again) there was always a big difference between being beaten by a better team (no shame there), and losing because you were cheated.

A bad review (opinion masquerading as insight) benefits no one; a negative review, well written and thought out, benefits everyone, author and readers alike.

As it happens, I've written more than once here about the fact that most crime fiction reviewers tend to err on the positive side; that books and writers would benefit from reviews and reviewers that pointed up the negative alongside the positive, given that very few books are perfect.

I've written more than my fair share of negative reviews myself, by the way, so the last thing I'm likely to ask for is a free pass. What I'm asking for is reviews that are fair and measured, and that the reviewer has the skills required to review. One example - the recent book on quantum physics by Brian Cox. I came across Cox complaining that some reviews on Amazon were giving the book the thumbs down because they didn't 'get' the science. Is that Cox's fault, or the reader / reviewer's? I'm fascinated by quantum physics, but I wouldn't dare put myself forward as a fit person to deliver judgement on a book about it.

Cheers, Dec

Cora Harrison said...

This is a very interesting subject. I think, as a writer, that I accept as valid criticism the fact that someone can't finish my book. Being so old that things don't matter that much, I shrug my shoulders and ignore publicity drives as much as possible.
What I do think is very wrong, though, is for Amazon to allow one star reviews to be given because the reviewer made a mistake and ordered a book for children when they wanted a book for adults. This has happened to me as a writer in both genres.
Also I once got a one-star review because a page was stained on the bottom. That, again, I think, is quite unfair.
However the man who gave a one-star review to 'My Lady Judge' and said that he didn't know why other reviewers gave it five stars because he put it down after reading up to the moment when the murder was committed (!) - well, I didn't mind that. Obviously I wasn't to his taste and why should he waste any more time on my book?

Being more than twice your age, Declan, I can only advise that you grow another skin. It will come!

Declan Burke said...

Sage advice, Cora, absolutely. But really, this isn't about me; what I'm trying to get at in terms of the big picture is that if on-line bloggers / reviewers want to be taken seriously, then they have to accept that with power comes responsibility. Which is something that most of the influential on-line reviewers understand.

Of course, not everyone has a need to be taken seriously. Which is a whole other issue.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Actually, scratch all of my comments above. I know nothing, and I care less.

Cheers, Dec