Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Thief of Words and Ideas

I have become fascinated with the plagiarism scandal surrounding the publication of Assassin of Secrets by Quentin Rowan (aka Q.R. Markham). After reading numerous reports, including the dogged detective work by Edward Champion, and following link after link from on-line newspaper articles I was finally led to the blog of Jeremy Duns, a spy novelist who gave a "fulsome blurb" (his own words) for Rowan's book. He called it "an instant classic" -- words he now shamefacedly admits were entirely inappropriate.

Duns writes in depth about his experience of reading the book, enjoying it, and now post-scandal he re-examines how he was duped by Rowan's amalgamation of other thriller writers' words. Included are emails sent to him from Rowan throughout the process of "writing" up to the final release of the book that reveal a manipulative sociopath enjoying his moment of glory. Read the essay here. Duns' final paragraph and conclusion so aptly sums up exactly how I feel about this. Rather than joining with the post-modernist fools who claim that Rowan is some sort of "genius" (read this speculation) he calls for all of us to condemn Rowan as the thief that he truly is.


  1. I write in depth about the amalgamation of other thriller writers' words which are now shamefacedly inappropiate.

  2. Cute, Tim. Everyone likes to make plagiarism jokes in the comments on all the posts related to Rowan. You've done your part. ;^)

    In reading Duns' article I learned that Richard Condon ripped off several sections of I, Claudius by Robert Graves for inclusion in his assassination thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Apparently he modeled Eleanor, the fiendish mother, on Livia and so loved that idea that he was compelled to "borrow" Graves' descriptions of Livia and her relationship with Claudius then pass them off as his own descriptions of Shaw and his mother.

    Now all my own detective work of long forgotten crime and thriller writers where in my gut I felt they were stealing from one another does not seem all that fanciful. This kind of "word sampling" has been going on for decades in genre fiction.

  3. Anyone have a copy of the Markham book? I notice that there are zero copies left on both Amazon and

  4. One of the frustrations of the Net is that it can give you so much to read. I followed the links back to that Graves reference as well. It makes you wonder how much "freely lifting" has been going on.

  5. Dear Nameless One -

    Had I copy of it I would've gladly set it ablaze. I guess it's going to be one of those odd collectables now and offered for outrageous sums on the internet. I can already hear echoes of Barnum's laughter.

  6. A copy has just sold on eBay for $51.00.

  7. What a surprise. I checked for other copies on eBay and found some yahoo who wants $270 for his copy. He calls it "the controversial novel." Help me.

  8. I just spent an enjoyable (if that's the right word) hour reading through all the links regarding this bizarre story. I suspect that the reason the con went on for so long is because nobody expects an entire book to consist of nothing but plagiarized passages. I'm an avid reader, but unless I love a book deeply and reread it regularly, I'm unlikely to remember exact lines and quotes.

    However, depending on how young the "author" is, he may truly think he's not doing "anything wrong." I work in the public schools and so many students think that writing a paper consists of using the copy-and-paste functions. They think that as long as they cite a source in their bibliography, it's perfectly acceptable to use its words verbatim.

    (BTW, there was a similar situation in the romance novel world a couple of years ago. A reader posted on the SmartBitches website about lifted passages in one of Cassie Edwards's books and by the end of the day readers had combed through all of Edward's novels and found that she had plagiarized massive amounts of her "work.")

  9. John: After reading your post I wrote a post on the subject at I do not usually pass on posts but thought you might find it interesting. I am going as well to Jeremy's as well to put up a link to my post.

  10. Since we all know that people will do anything for fame and/or money, this scandal comes as no surprise. My wonder is that it doesn't happen more often.

    There was another of these sorts of explosions in the romance genre, other than that one mentioned by Deb. It had to do, I think, with a pretty famous author, Jane Dailey having allegedly appropriated some of, I think, Nora Roberts' work. It resulted in a settlement and an apology, far as I can remember.

    I think that early on, Homer and all those guys probably borrowed from one another.

    And everyone 'borrows' from Shakespeare, that's for sure.

    But out and out thievery of the kind you talke about, John, is repugnant.

  11. Oh, yes, Yvette, I remember the Nora Roberts plagiarism case--it was one of the very first to make use of the power of the fledgling internet. Nora was checking out some romance-novel message boards (remember those?) and read posts that noted major similarities between her previously-published novels and new work by (I think) Dailey. The Cassie Edwards story was more the product of the recent vast power of internet. Readers from all over started looking at her work and posting plagiarized passages. Even that would have been swept under the rug if Edwards's publishers had issued an assinine letter defending Edwards and saying, basically, well, everyone's doing it.

    But this story beats any other I've heard, hands down, if only for the sheer scope and brazenness of the plagiarism.