Recently, a publicist offered me a free copy of a book that she was representing. In return, she hoped that I would post a review here on Windypundit. Based on her description of the novel as a legal thriller, I said “sure” and she sent me an e-book version for my Kindle.
The book had a terrific opening chapter, filled with well-observed scene setting and rich detail, and leading up to the murder that would presumably drive the plot for the rest of the book. Or it would have, if the author had known how to structure a book-length plot. Ultimately, I finished the book out of duty, but it wasn’t very good. It certainly didn’t fit my definition of a legal thriller.
Since I had promised to do a review, I wanted to let the publicist know my opinion. So I wrote back,
Thank you for the opportunity to review [Book Title] by [Author]. I’m sorry to say, however, that I didn’t like it very much. [Author] writes some good scenes, but the the story loses its way, the characters’ motivations are hard to understand, the romance between the protagonists comes out of nowhere, and the author’s fascination with young women who are attracted to prominent older men is a little creepy.
I was downplaying the problems with the book. Even having finished it, I’m still not clear on what the conflict is. I mean, there was a murder at the beginning, but nobody seemed to be trying to solve it. Then there’s some stuff about corrupt businessmen and Mexican drug lords and missing drug money that eventually takes over the plot. And now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember the protagonists ever actually figuring out who the murderer was. And the solution to their problems came out of nowhere, involving a character we’d never heard of before.
Heck, for the first half of the book, I couldn’t even be sure who the protagonists were, other than the young wife of the murder victim. It seemed like all the male characters were well-off alpha males who wanted to fuck the younger female characters. Eventually, one of those males (an obvious surrogate for the author) emerged as the protagonist when he gets the hots for the young widow, who for no clear reason I can determine, has secretly fallen for him as well — in one hideous scene even masturbating while saying his name.
Anyway, I was sure the publicist didn’t want a negative review, and I didn’t really want to write a negative review, so I offered us both a way out:
I’m certainly willing to keep up my end of the bargain and publish a review, but it would have to reflect these shortcomings, and I would not recommend the book to my readers. On the other hand, if you would rather I didn’t post a negative review of the book, I have no problem killing the review.
The publicist agreed, so I won’t be reviewing the book or naming it in this post.
I realize this sounds a bit like I’m hiding a bad review as favor for a publicist who gave me a free book (perhaps in hopes of getting more free books) so I feel I should explain myself. I’m trying to review books (or movies or music or whatever) in a way that will help out my readers.
In the case of a big-time book release that gets a lot of publicity, my readers will have hundreds of sources of information about the book, and few of them will care what a small-time blogger like me thinks. When the next book by J.K Rowling or Stephen King comes out, a review by me would be unlikely to influence anyone’s decision to buy it.
The same is true for non-fiction — probably nobody will use my review to decide whether to buy the next book by Bob Woodward, Ann Coulter, or Paul Krugman. That won’t stop me from writing about those books if I think I have something I want to say (I am a blogger, after all), but I’ll be only one of many voices with an opinion.
When it comes to smaller book releases — defined as books that most people have never heard of — the logic changes a bit. If I write a positive review of a relatively obscure book — such as Fragment by Warren Fahy or Shifted by Colin D. Jones — there’s a chance that I might convince you to try it, and there’s a chance that you’ll like it. So my review might, in some small way, improve your life. I’d like to think that’s possible.
On the other hand, if I write a review that totally trashes a book that you never heard of — Operation Damocles, by Oscar L. Fellows, for example, is a really bad book that you should never read — what’s your likely response? You probably won’t read it. Which is exactly the same thing you would have done if I hadn’t published a review, since you didn’t even know it existed until I mentioned it. Writing a review that changes nothing doesn’t seem like a good use of my time.
So if you notice that I don’t publish a lot of negative reviews, especially of fiction, that’s the reason why. Trashing obscure works accomplishes nothing for either of us. We’ll both be better off if I try to find gems.