Spending $50 at Amazon, and Not Everyone in the UK Loves Me

March 12th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

The forthcoming audio read by Dan John Miller

A rumor is around that you can’t review a book for Amazon unless you buy it from them. That appears to be false. What seems to be true is that you have to occasionally buy things from Amazon to be able to review there – which is different. You need to have spent at least fifty bucks at Amazon during the last twelve months. That’s it.

I actually think that’s fair. Why should a business where you don’t do business put your opinions on its web site?

Girl Most Likely is an Amazon Prime “First Read” selection the UK, so reader reviews of the novel are starting to appear there. Some are very good. Others are snarky and even savage. A certain breed of nasty UK reviewer seems to really relish attacking books – including books like mine, which they got for free – rather viciously.

Some of these reviews are appearing now at Goodreads. By the way, if you have been participating in my book giveaways, I hope you will post your reviews at Goodreads. I can especially use your reviews on Girl Most Likely, as the UK ones have pulled down the star rating, despite some really nice write-ups.

Don’t forget Barnes & Noble, and other blogs, including your own, if you have one.

Also, if you participate in my book giveaways, and if you don’t like the book, you are not obligated to review it. I am not insisting on good reviews, mind you – even I would not sink that low (I did create Nate Heller and Quarry, however). But every book I send out to you costs me time and money, and if you don’t care for the book you got free from me, that’s what the wastebasket or the Half-Price Books “buy” counter is for.

Let’s take an ill-advised look at Goodreads. (Pause for my son Nate to roll his eyes and reach for the phone.) This is where those UK readers – possibly taking Brexit out on me – have had their say already, weeks before the book will be on sale here. While there have indeed been some excellent reviews from the UK, and some mixed but fair ones, we also get things like this from Ceecee:

“I understand this is a book in the tradition of a Scandi noir of which I have read many and enjoyed most. So here goes. Brace yourselves.”

Never a good sign when a review begins with “Brace yourselves.” And what follows is an attack on me for calling my characters Scandinavian (it’s pointed out that they are actually Americans, which was interesting to learn). Problem is, the word “Scandinavian” does not appear anywhere in the novel.

Here’s a paragraph from later in Ceecee’s review that manages to be lengthy without presenting any examples to back up her opinions, and also not to have much to do with the novel:

“Danes are Uber cool. Probably the coolest of the Scandinavian countries. Sorry if you’re Swedish. Or Norwegian. You are cool too. Just quite not as cool as the stylish Danes. I didn’t detect too much cool in this setting in Illinois apart from the weather. Sorry if you are cool and from Illinois. I’m sure there’s plenty of you.”

This negative review from Christopher Williams says:

“The perpetrator also turned out to be somebody I was completely unaware of through the whole of the book!”

But just above his review, Cathi Reynolds says, “The red herrings were fairly obvious too and I’d spotted the killer by half way.”

Sophie Andrews says, “The female characters are really badly written, and many characters behave in completely inexplicable or unexplained ways.”

What are Sophie’s choice examples of my bad writing and poor characterization? What from the book does she quote or even paraphrase to back up her opinions?

Nothing.

And that’s the problem with so many of these reviews, even some of the positive ones. Opinions backed up with nothing at all.

This fairly positive review from Dr R Gallow compares me to Agatha Christie (cool!), but then says, “It was like 10 little indians. Who was killing off the Class of 2009 and why?”

Problem with that is, only two members of the class of 2009 are killed off in the novel. That’s eight Indians short – even I can do that math.

Here, from Glen’s somewhat favorable review (an American, not from the UK or Scandinavia either for that matter), comes this:

“We get an awful lot of virtue signalling, just like in most Nordic Noir. There are also some of the usual MAC tics, like describing everyone’s clothes in minute detail…”

Much of this review is fine, but I had never heard of “virtue signaling.” I looked it up and this is what Wikipedia says: “Virtue signaling is a pejorative term that refers to the conspicuous expression of moral values….In recent years, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative by commentators to criticize what they regard as empty or superficial support of certain political views.”

Hmmm.

I suspect the presence of a conservative reader who knows I am a liberal and believes I am spouting my dire views upon the unwitting public by putting words into characters’ mouths. Right. Like the way I do with that flaming liberal Mike Hammer. Or that bleeding heart Quarry. Or that oh so politically correct Nate Heller.

Bullshit says I. My characters, and I would say the characters of most proficient fiction writers, have views appropriate to said characters, and are designed to lend those characterizations weight and specificity.

Must we talk clothing again? How many times do I have to say that I describe clothing for characterization? And in Girl Most Likely, the brand names have to do with a very successful woman returning to her class reunion dressed to the nines, and (minor spoiler alert) revealing later that the designer fashions are on loan or rented, like the sports car she arrived in.

Look, all of these people have a right to their opinions. Obviously. Believe it or not, I appreciate the time they have taken to write about the book, no matter how they felt about it. A well-reasoned review with criticism is well within bounds and I have even learned from some – but for that to happen, the opinions have to be backed up with examples of what didn’t work and why.

I think brief reviews are fine. “Not my cup of tea” is perfectly acceptable. “I loved every page” is just fine – really fine! But if you go on at length, remember, it’s an essay. Points have to be proven. Examples provided – like I have here.

Also, and this is basic and if I’ve gone on about this before, my apologies…but the experience of reading fiction is collaborative. It’s the writer plus the reader. The experience is unique to that pairing. No two readers experience a novel the same way.

Where my fiction is concerned I am something of a control freak. I know you, the reader, will come to my novel with bag and baggage, with opinions and points of view, and that comes with the territory. But I want to come as close as I can in the words I put on the page to having you see in your brain what I saw in mine, as I was creating the story. I want my physical descriptions of people and places to create something close to what I saw. I want to clothe my characters, not send them naked into the world. I am not just the writer but the director, and the costumer and the set designer, and you will just have to live with it, or at least skim what doesn’t interest you.

I’ve said this before, in so many words – sometimes my little play (we’re a play now, not a movie, in metaphorical terms) is performed on Broadway by the finest actors in the world. Other times it’s performed at the Podunk Playhouse by a bunch of amateur gits (that was for you UK readers). How well performed my work is, to some degree, up to you and your skills.

Me? I’m just trying to help.

* * *

Here how’s it done in this lovely (but at times mildly critical) review of Girl Most Likely from Ron Fortier.

Mickey Spillane’s 101st birthday was last week (March 9) and there have been some nice remembrances, including this one from Paul Davison with a link to a piece of mine.

For all the Goodreads reviews and ratings of Girl Most Likely, you go here. There’s a book giveaway of Girl here, too.

And finally here, in full, because I don’t have a link, is the Booklist review:

Girl Most Likely.
By Max Allan Collins
Apr. 2019. 272p. Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, paper, $15.95 (9781542040587); e-book (9781542090582)

Someone is killing members of the Galena [Illinois] High School class of 2009. Six months before the 10-year reunion, class member Sue Logan is brutally stabbed in Florida, shortly after a tense meeting with her murderer. During the reunion weekend, the victim is attendee Astrid Lund, the “girl most likely to succeed,” who has become a well-known Chicago TV reporter. After trying to make amends for stealing her classmates’ boyfriends in high school, she too meets with her killer before being stabbed to death.

These murders—and a third, seemingly committed by the same person—land in the lap of another class member, Krista Larson, the country’s youngest female chief of police 28, who calls on her widowed father, Keith, a retired police detective, as a consultant. This is a change of pace for Collins, best known for his fact-based historical-mystery series starring Nate Heller, and he describes it as “an American take on Nordic noir.” As such, it’s a well-wrought tale, and, though it lacks the bite of the Heller novels, it will keep readers going through the suspenseful, if somewhat abrupt, climax.
— Michele Leber

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7 Responses to “Spending $50 at Amazon, and Not Everyone in the UK Loves Me”

  1. Glen Davis says:

    Well, when it comes to the clothes descriptions, I don’t really mind it, which is why I described it as a “tic.” Ironically, it never really registered with me until I read your complaints about people complaining about it. Now, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I understand the purpose, and what they are meant to do, but I felt l should mention it because if people dislike it that much, they should know whether it’s there or not.

    And No, I’ve never accused you of virtue signalling in your Mike Hammer novels I’ve also reviewed.

  2. Glen, my point is that it seems to be “virtue signalling” to the far right when the character doesn’t share their politics. Characters in novels can have all sorts of political views, not necessarily shared by the author. In the Reader and Rogers series by Matt Clemens and me, Reeder is a centrist Old School Democrat, and Rogers is an Old School Republican. Reeder’s daughter is far to the left of him and her boy friend way to the left. And on and on. Should our characters be blanks? I don’t think so. In GIRL MOST LIKELY, Krista is a centrist Democrat (was farther left as a young person) and her father Keith is a Republican who has sat through the last few elections in general disgust with both sides. Krista’s best friend is a very conservative Republican. It’s a mix of opinions and a mix of beliefs and attitudes, just like in real life. I still call bullshit.

  3. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    Dear Mr. Collins,
    I am currently entered in a Goodreads giveaway for this book. As I understood the terms of this giveaway, we reviewers have a contract to provide an honest review in exchange for the free copy, with the operative word being “honest.” How honest can we be if the author of said book is telling us, in effect, if you don’t like my book don’t review it?
    I have read many of your books, and have enjoyed them, but you have already poisoned the well as far as “Girl Most Likely.”
    I approach it assuming there is some reason there is not to like it. I will have to overcome that bias before I can give it the honest review it deserves. ( As a fairly loyal fan, I plan on reading it whether I win it or not.) I already had the bias to overcome of listening to my family members joke about the idea of a “Nordic” mystery in Galena. Yes, we are from the general geographic area. My daughter’s comment, which I should save for my blog was, “Galena? Why not Decorah, Ia.? At least they do the stoicism right.”
    Anyway, you should not care what I have to say about your books. I am nobody special. I really want to town on Brad Meltzer ‘s latest, and he never noticed.

  4. Ann-Marie, what a Goodreads reviewer says is fine. I am not associated with their giveaways, which have the instructions you mention. But when I personally — going out to what I perceive as my fan base — go to the trouble and expense to send a copy to one of my readers in a book giveaway here at my web site, I have a right to say I am fine with you not reviewing it, if you don’t like it. I don’t make that a requirement.

    I don’t follow what you wrote about family members joking about the Nordic mystery. What I’ve said in interviews, and here, is that I was trying to follow the lead of the Nordic mystery writers (in books and TV), in their approach (using everyday people in non-everyday situations, subjects dealing with social concerns). That Krista and her father have Nordic ancestry is just a nod to the Nordic mystery, not a major aspect, and has more to do with my naming one of the protagonists after an influential teacher in my life named Keith Larson.

    All of my readers are special. In this day and age, everybody still reading books is special.

  5. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    Mr. Collins,
    Thanks for clearing that up. I look forward to reading and reviewing your book. I will follow you on Goodreads, and you can read my review of you want.
    I will remember not to enter contests for your books on your websites and then review the books. Kinda defeats my whole thing as a reader. I read and share my impressions, and my impressions are worth exactly what other people think they’re worth.
    Thanks for taking the time with me.
    Ann-Marie
    P.S. One thing I really loved in the Hate Heller books was Sally Rand. My mom took me to see her perform once when I was a little girl. She was something.

  6. Thanks for the follow-up, Ann-Marie, but let me make it clear: I’m telling people who win a book in a giveaway on this site, and dislike it, that they are not obligated to review it anyway. I would in fact prefer people who access early copies from me and don’t like the books not to review them, but obviously I can’t stop them.

    It costs me in the neighborhood of $70 to $150 per giveaway, plus a certain amount of time and effort, to get these advance copies into the hands of readers who follow me here and presumably enjoy my work.

  7. Thomas Zappe says:

    Nordic Schmordic.

    What Max has done with his characters here is the same thing that Irving Thalberg did with the Marx Brothers in A DAY AT THE RACES and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, their two best movies. Thalberg made them more relatable as human beings, not just extremely funny two dimensional characters jumping from one bit to the next.

    Instead of dealing with iconic figures who fly across the Atlantic, provide illicit booze for Chicago or become the reigning sex symbol of a century [people the likes of whom we are never likely to meet] he has focused on and developed people we knew in high school and still occasionally meet for lunch.

    For most of us, Lindbergh’s political leanings, Capone’s syphilitic demise or Monroe’s poorly staged death, while interesting, will have little or no real effect on our lives compared to the untimely loss of a friend who dies way before they should.

    This time it’s personal because a bunch of our own secrets get turned up along the way.

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