I have written many reviews over the years and always found it demanding. To begin with, if I read a book and really don’t like it then I won’t review it. No point putting an author off after publication. Some might argue that comments concerning a certain category of book (let’s call it Book Number 1 in the Inspector Torcuil McSporran series) might have a beneficial knock-on effect in Book Number 2. But who is to say there will be a follow-up?

Reviewing has also caused me to change my reading habits. In the past (when I was younger than I am today, in every way, oh yeah, oh no) I would read physical copies. I still do, but if I intend to review a book now I will buy a eBook edition. The reason for this is an ingrained belief that it is not enough to make an assertion of the sort This book is absolute drivel OR This book is a work of genius. Assertions should be supported a) by reasoning and b) by evidence.

In the case of a book, evidence can only take the form of quotations from the text. To which end I used to sit in front of a screen typing with one hand while holding the book open at the relevant page with the other. This was a slow and inefficient process leading to strain of the left thumb. Then I discovered, late in the day, that by using an eBook I could highlight noteworthy sections then – sheer bliss! – copy them at will into a review.

Having just read two reviews of my recent title, I have been struck by how inadequate some reviews can be.

Review 1

Here are a couple of plums. Firstly, about the cover:

It is nice designed in the color and in the design itself.


The author succeeds in writing very detailing about the scenery

To judge by the syntax errors, English was not the reviewer’s first language. Is this is a concern? Yes, though only if the reviewer’s command of the language in which the book is written is an obstacle to him/her in properly getting to grips with it.

In this case, the reviewer liked the book but in terms so general anyone reading the review would learn nothing at all about it. For example, wouldn’t we want to know what the book was about?

To quote from the site the review was posted on (here I am quoting again, I just can’t help myself), the site “helps readers of influence discover and recommend new books to their audiences”.

Review 2

This was an interesting one but in a different way.

Hart’s characters are complex and without any definite shade of black or white except for Klein Pearson , who as the sole antagonist comes out as a vile, hateful character.

This would be a telling point against the said Klein Pearson if there was any such character in the book. Unfortunately, there is not. The reviewer has conflated two very different characters, Dieter Klein and Adalbert Pearson. Worrying, right?




The Ears of a Cat

This novel was due to come out on January 28th, 2020, but the publisher stole a march on me big time by bringing forward the date to November 28th, 2019 then publishing it even ahead of that. A planned launch during the first week of February has therefore been abandoned. The paperback is on sale through the websites of Amazon, plus those of major UK retailers such as Waterstone’s and Blackwells (who are offering it for sale at a discount of £1). Physical copies are already available in Blackwells Cambridge and Edinburgh stores.

While all this is good, I have been badly caught on the hop with respect to reviews, so if anyone out there would like to review it, I will do what I can to help. For example, I could have the publisher send a paperback to your preferred address. The eBook is readily available for any reader/reviewer outwith the UK.

To give a flavour of what to expect, here is the publisher’s press release. Apart from the “dizzying pace” it is pretty accurate.

Press Release

With buckets of black humour and a dizzying pace that pulls the reader to the final page, Roderick Hart’s latest novel is set in the near-future in a world very like our own where population expansion has become a serious issue…

To the well-meaning people of Future World the problem is obvious: too many people. However, so is the solution: eliminate as many of their fellow human beings as they can – though for Catherine Cooper, Cindy Horváth and Gina Saito, this is easier said than done… at least until they get their hands on a bird flu virus made lethal in the lab.

But as they work out how to use it to the most devastating effect, the German security service gets wind of their intention, as does an unscrupulous freelance agent from the United States. Following a succession of bizarre events, including a conversation with a cat, a fractured penis and the testimony of a Japanese sex doll, only the last woman standing, fish-whisperer Gina Saito, can hope to bring it off. Yet she knows full well this will lead to an agonizing death on foreign soil.

The underlying issue in the book, no matter how comedic Roderick has made the novel, is one that is a real concern to him. “My ‘inspiration’ was a deep-seated pessimism about the way the human race is going,” he states. “I approached this through a narrative involving people feeling the same way but who, unlike me, actually try to do something about it, to improve on the current situation by bumping off as many people as possible. After all, the easiest way to reduce carbon footprints is to reduce the number of feet.”

Set in Berlin, Los Angeles, England and Japan, the unfolding events show that having a plan isn’t enough: good intentions can lead to ludicrous results and, ultimately, death.

RELEASE DATE: 28 November 2019

ISBN: 9781838591441 Price: £ 8.99

Ringing Endorsements

There is an assumption that endorsements are a good thing. From the reader’s point of view it may help them to decide what to read next: from the writer’s point of view that they will help move copies of their books. Both of these assumptions may well be true. Going by the space devoted to endorsements in books these days, I have to assume that publishers are sitting on evidence that they are effective.

Critical acclaim can come from several different sources. One is newspapers and magazines, and  we will form a view over time of their reviewers, as Gore Vidal did concerning the New York Times.  Another source is online reviews from sites such as Amazon or Goodreads (now a branch of Amazon). And the third is critical acclaim from fellow authors.

Online reviews can be dreadful, but they can also be excellent, so those who read them must judge for themselves. But they can’t  in those cases where a review is written by the author under an assumed name – either to praise himself or do down a competitor. There have been several high-profile cases of this and no one can be sure how pervasive it might be.

The area which interests me most is where authors are endorsed by other authors. This might happen for several reasons. The first is that one author genuinely admires the work of another. If they do, and they say so, that is surely a good thing. But what if two authors share the same publisher? It must have occurred to the marketing department that their authors might usefully endorse each other. And even where this is not the case, there is always the possibility that mutual back-scratching is taking place.

The first time I considered this subject was when I bought a copy of Underworld, by Don Delilo. I have since given this book away, but it contained several pages of praise from various sources. I made two attempts to read it, giving up both times.

I recently read The Blue Book, by A L Kennedy. On the back cover was a quotation from Richard Ford. Since I have given this book away too I am going by memory here, but I believe it said, ‘This woman is a profound writer.’ And those were the only words on the back cover.

My first assumption is that Richard Ford meant what he said. But was he right and, if so, why? It has been suggested to me that he must be right because 1) he was a novelist himself and 2) he was such an accomplished novelist that he had won a Pulitzer Prize. I have problems with this, none of them having to do with Richard Ford or the quality of his work.

Do we have to be a writer to evaluate the work of a writer? Plainly not. But perhaps being a writer gives us added insights we can bring to bear in our review? That’s obviously possible, but with at least one caveat: a writer will have certain working prejudices (a good thing) lighting his way along the path as he works. But these may, on occasion, skew his reaction to the work of others. Tolstoy was a writer but had a low opinion of Shakespeare. Do we accept his unusual point of view because he wrote Anna Karenina?

Is there any way through all this? Yes. The conclusion alone it is not enough. To enable us to test it, we need to know how it was arrived at. I have no doubt that Richard Ford, if asked, would tell us exactly why he thinks A L Kennedy is a profound writer. But this information was denied us. So the prospective purchaser of The Blue  Book was left with a back cover occupied by a mere assertion in solitary splendour.

Even if this assertion had been made by a literary Pope speaking ex cathedra (or possibly ex libris) we should not accept it. We must insist on our right to think for ourselves.