Sock puppetry and fake reviews: publish and be damned - 2012-09-04
A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory is, according to a review in the Guardian, "thriller writing of the very highest order". High praise indeed, but one Amazon reviewer, "Jelly Bean", goes further. RJ Ellory's story of a man who as a child was at the centre of a series of brutal killings of young girls is "one of the most moving books I've ever read", Ellory himself is "one of the most talented authors of today" and "his ability to craft the English language is breathtaking".
Too much? No, because Amazon reviewer "Nicodemus Jones" agrees: the book is a "modern masterpiece", and "whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul". A reader wondering whether or not to make a purchase might be convinced by this breathless praise: the only problem is, Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones are both the pseudonyms of Ellory himself, who was outed this week by fellow crime writer Jeremy Duns as the author of 12 glowingly positive writeups of his own books on Amazon, as well as two reviews critical of his fellow crime authors Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride. MacBride's novel Dark Blood is, according to Ellory's pseudonymous review, "another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK".
On Monday, Ellory took responsibility for the reviews and apologised for his actions, both publicly to his fans and privately to Billingham and MacBride, but this has been a bad summer altogether for the credibility of authors and online book reviewing. It started when the bestselling thriller writer Stephen Leather admitted at the Harrogate crime festival to using various names online, and even having conversations with himself, to build buzz about his novels, sparking a huge debate among authors about the ethics of the practice known as "sock puppeting".