Monday, March 4, 2013

The Quandary Dilemma, or Help Me Out, Folks!

Oh, the woes of a book blogging reviewer. Every now and then I encounter a book I want to write about but upon reaching the final page I am left feeling empty. I don’t want to write about it, I don't want to recommend it, I wish I had never read it, in fact. Usually I leave it at that and move on to the next book.

But this time I want to help promote a new publishing venture, one which will revive several long out of print books in affordable paperback editions. The book I read is the very first book this publisher has chosen to reprint. A poor choice for the first book, in my opinion. A formulaic, tired pursuit thriller that barely classifies as a true detective novel. Throwing in everything but the kitchen sink -- murder, blackmail, kidnapping and even check fraud -- it was originally published in the UK and the US in 1923 and has been out of print ever since. It's not awful, it's just run-of-the-mill. I can't understand why anyone would want to reprint it when there are dozens of much better books from the same era that deserve to be rediscovered by a modern audience. And I've written about many of them. Murder on the Moor, The Desert Moon Mystery, The Death of Laurence Vining all come to mind as exceptionally entertaining, sometimes brilliant, detective novels from the 1920s that are screaming to be reprinted. But instead we get…

Well, that's my trouble. Do I tell you or do I remain silent?

Do I tell you about this book and not mention the name of the publisher? Or do I skip the review altogether and wait until the publisher releases a book that is worth your hard earned cash and your even more valuable reading time?

I rarely ask for advice. But with this one I'm in a quandary. Help me out, my friends. What do you think I should do?


  1. Blast - was in the middle of writing a long response to your dilemma and it vanished. Swearword.

    If I was in your shoes, I'd write the review - as you said, it's not awful, just a bit dull - highlighting the publisher's future plans, and saying what you'd like to see in the range. If they know that they'll get a positive plug for such items, then they might actually publish them! But then again, I've got a "if I finished it, I review it" policy. I think with this book, from your description, I wouldn't have got very far with it in the first place.

  2. I'm with the Puzzle Doctor on this, John. But I'm also of the "if I finished it, I review it" police (as we know with Strange Murders at Greystones). Of course, I also do write ups for books I didn't finish--not because I want to rip anyone to shreds, but because my blog started as a reading journal for me and I want a record of why the book didn't appeal to me. And I tell authors/publishers up front in my review policy that I intend to do write ups of some sort on every book I'm given to review.

    I also agree with Steve (my middle-age brain is not necessarily firing on all cylinders--that is the good Doctor's name, yes? I hate it when I feel like I'm blanking out. "Blast" as he would say) that it would be good to highlight the future plans and giving examples of really good books to bring back into print.

  3. John: I have written one truly very negative review but it was a living author and gave him notice of my concerns and a chance to provide his thoughts.

    I say write the review and link it to the above post and say you will read the next book published in the expectation it will be a better book.

  4. Must admit, politeness would probably win for me here - keep the review of the book short and focus on the merits of the enedeavour instead and maybe suggest some other books that you hope they can re-publish soon and perhaps ask you readers to also contribute some titles that might deservingly also get reprinted. God knows John, I'd love to get my hands on affordable editions of just 10% of the great-sounding books you've been reviewing in the last few years.

  5. John, you have the right to remain silent but, I agree, you should write reviews of "detective novels from the 1920s that are screaming to be reprinted" for people like me who have heard about one out of every 10 books you read and review here, which includes the three titles you mentioned in this post. Forget the publisher.

  6. Thanks to all of you, gentle readers. Ask and you shall receive! One review of a mediocre detective novel unwisely reprinted coming up in a few days. All advice above will be generously applied like well needed salve on a scalding burn.

  7. John, I had a similar problem when I came across Le French Book. I support their cause 100% but the first book I read was really underwhelming, and when I wrote my review it sounded extremely negative although I wasn't trying to be. Fortunately in that case, the publishers launched three books at once and one of the others turned out to be far more suited to my tastes.

  8. I'd write the review, minimizing the negative as much as honestly can be done, while emphasizing the promise the publisher and future projects holds. It only seems fair to offer some fair warning to the potential purchasers out here.

  9. My first thought upon reading this post was to suggest that you've set a nice detective puzzle for your readers: It should be possible to suss out—without your having to tell us—which small press has issued which 1923 UK thriller. But I now see that you're going to tell us, after all, so I'll await your review. More generally, I'd love to think that you (and other bloggers) might do for the genre what Barzun and Taylor did in the 1980s when they guided Harper Perennial in the selection of dozens of old titles that were worthy of reprinting.

    1. I like that idea, Mike. I know there are a handful of bloggers who have been responsible for reintroducing some wonderful books to the world. Most notably, Simon of Stuck in a Book and his connection with some UK publishers. He managed to convince Bloomsbury to reprint Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker and it sold thousands of copies internationally. Power to the bloggers!

  10. Ah, I belatedly see that you've already posted that review ...

  11. I loved MISS HARGREAVES, John. Power to the bloggers - Yeah! You should definitely go into vintage mystery consulting. :)


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