Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Today's News

First, on a procedural note. I have found that some viewers don't realize that at the end of each essay they should click on the Comments link to either write me a note or see what others have said about the rant. Trust me, this is worth the effort because the folks who write these comments are all far more clever than I.


For those of you who aren't in the book business, here's the way it works in the rarefied, secretive and sometimes heartbreaking world of Big Time Book Reviewing. Four or five months before a book is due to be published, selected reviewers are sent Advance Reader Copies (hereafter known as ARCs) which are paperback copies of the (usually) hardback book. Occasionally you'll get an actual manuscript, though this is rare. There are different ways to get on these reviewers lists, which we'll cover in another blog. Along with the ARC is usually a sheet or two of promo material from the publisher. All self-respecting reviewers immediately toss that material in the trash. Wouldn't want to be influenced now, would we?

You then open the book and are often, far too often, met on the first page with a “letter” from the publisher.

I hate these letters.

Purportedly from a CEO, Editor-in-Chief or some other publisher nabob, the letter breathlessly informs the reviewer that the author of the book one is about to read is the new incarnation of Le Carre, Clancy, Dan Brown or some other mega-selling author. As if I, as a reviewer, would read that and say to myself, Wow! I guess I'm in for a treat! I'm really gonna love this book! Not bloody likely. My first thought is, I'll be the judge of that. But the thing that really galls me, because it is so foolish, is that these letters are “signed” with a facsimile of the person's signature. Again, as if I'm going to think Sonny Mehta arrived at work just the other day, typed out a personal note to me, glued it into the ARC and had his assistant put it into the mail. Please, spare me. It not only doesn't make me think I'm going to love the book, it seriously annoys me, and, listen up, publishers, annoying the reviewer just when he's about to turn to page one of your latest block-buster is not a good idea. So stop it. Stop with the fakey letters. Unless you're actually going to ask me out for a drink or lunch or something.

Hows next Friday look for you, Sonny?

And another thing, (there's always going to be an another thing from me) I don't like it when I'm informed in the letter that the book I'm about to read is “ripped from today's headlines.” Such a cliché.

And yet...

The top, front-page headline in Tuesday's Washington Post was “Scores Killed in Ethnic Riots in China.” These riots took place in the northwest province of Xinjang where Muslim Uighurs are demonstrating for independence. The curious thing is, on Monday I had just finished reading an excellent book, Typhoon, by Charles Cumming, who posits a secret plot by the CIA, code named Typhoon, to bring down the present Chinese government by inciting riots and unrest in Xinjang Province. Cue The Twilight Zone soundtrack. Of course, it's always wise for a thriller writer to be current, but given the amount of time it takes to write and publish a book I must say that Cumming was way ahead of the curve on this one. If you don't know his books (A Spy by Nature, The Spanish Game) and you like intelligent, character-rich spy novels, you should read him. Comparisons to le Carre are inevitable, but misguided. These days any spy novelist who writes intelligently and well is compared to le Carre. Cumming is very much his own man, working his own turf. He lives in England (natch) and the book comes out in this country in November. Look for it.


  1. I started to read Tod Bell's "Spy" but was side tracked by discovering I was reading it out of chronological sequence with others featuring the same protagonist, plus I'd gotten in my order of all the Alex Balfour novels and wanted to read them first. :) I'll definitely put Cummings on my Kindle download 'to-do' list though.

  2. Of all the Ted Bell books in this series I prefer Tsar. If you've read the first one, Hawke, I don't think it matters much what order you read them in. Bell soft-pedals Hawke's resemblance to James Bond, but I find the character too Bondish, slipping into almost-parody territory at times. I think of the series as Boys Books for Men.

  3. Speaking of Bond - I've read all of Ian Flemings works. It's a pity they don't make the movies to closely follow the books - era, characterization, story, etc. I'd love to see a real James Bond movie done that way. Might be a good project for the A&E folks who did Hornblower. :)