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Plagiarism update: Disgraced ‘Assassins’ sells like hot cakes.

November 10, 2011

Quentin Rowan, preparing to assassinate his reputation.

I’m not the least surprised, and I’m sure you aren’t either, that Assassin of Secrets, the spy novel revealed Tuesday as a Frankenbook stitched from at least 13 previous novels, has become a bestseller.

And why not? I kind of want to see the thing myself, though not quite enough to rush out and look for it at my local bookstore. Do we still have a local bookstore here in Fort Lauderdale? Oh, yeah: Barnes & Nobel. The things we must be grateful for these days…

Visit the Miami Book Fair International website to see the glittering author list (Roseanne Cash! Jeffrey Eugenides! Nicole Kraus! Michael Ondaajte! Hundreds more! Literally!). This year’s fair runs Nov. 13-20.

In other news, it’s becoming clear that Quentin Rowan, perpetrator of this delicious fraud, is merely a sad little con, and not, as I speculated in yesterday’s blog, a brilliant hoaxter, or better yet, a trailblazing 21st century mash-up artist.

Little, Brown withdrew Assassin of Secrets on Tuesday — which only incited readers to buy up the remaining copies before they could disappear.

According to the Huffington Post, Assassin of Secrets jumped from 62,924 on Amazon.com’s sales ranking, to 174 by Wednesday afternoon.

You might think this yet another example of the gullibility and general boobishness of the American public, but a far more charitable face can be attached to it. Americans are not stupid (except, of course, when we are), we just love a grand fraud, or its slightly more reputable cousin, a clever hoax.

Yesterday I speculated, with perhaps unseemly joy, that Rowan, who writes under the name “Q.R. Markham,” had produced Assassin of Secrets not as your run-of-the-mill plagiarist, hoping to get rich filching other people’s work, but as a 21st century literary appropriation artist in the manner of David Shields.

Or, almost as good, Rowan was a hoaxter, creating Assassin of Secrets specifically to be discovered and cause just this uproar.

Now it’s increasingly clear that Rowan had no such lofty creative or critical aims in mind. A friend from the Northeast, who must remain nameless, saw Rowan/Markham at a Manhattan book signing last week,  and wrote to report the “author” “looked scared to death about something.”

Someone by the screen name of “Steve” wrote to share a couple of incriminating reports: “Q.R. Markham Basically Plagiarized Everything He Ever Wrote, Including a HuffPo Column,” from the New York Observer, and a New York Daily News story in which Rowan is quoted saying, “I can’t lie, making some kind of money off my writing always appealed to me, but certainly the appeal grew stronger as I got older.”

However seamy Rowan’s disgrace may be — and what a nitwit! — it does not diminish the value of Assassin of Secrets as a hoax/art work of potent power. By appropriating the work of so many other writers, he produced a book that fooled editors, critics, and fellow spy novelists. It’s damning to the entire genre that this fraud was not discovered before publication.

A friend who toils in the fields of genre, though in crime fiction rather than spy novels, wrote to ask with some indignation whether I was joking or actually suggesting that genre fiction is inherently inferior, which got me to thinking:

I’ve always held that the conventions of genre writing, like the conventions of the sonnet, can be not only confining but also liberating. Further, I admire the craftsmanship that goes into an exemplary genre novel, even (especially!) if it doesn’t aspire to transcend that genre.

In crime fiction, which I read somewhat more than the spy thriller, I can name a few outstanding authors — Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Colin Harrison, Laura Lippman, and many others.

What’s more, at every opportunity I have argued that serious literary fiction is also a genre, though one that holds itself in excessive regard. Scorn rains down on my head from the highbrow contingent each time I say this.

True, in theory literary fiction has no conventions, and it practitioners are free to go whether their muse takes them. In practice, however, trends and fashions come and go, and many literary writers scrupulously adhere to them.

Consider the misconception that vagueness is more profound than specificity, that an open-ended story is more literary than one that has an ending. What nonsense.

My affection for the genres notwithstanding, the failure of experts — editors, critics, fellow spy novelists — to detect anything amiss with Assassin of Secrets at each stage of the production process poses problematic implications.

This failure — Little, Brown published the book, critics praised it, authors blurbed it — suggests strongly that spy novelists are not merely observing convention when they write. They are copying the work of other writers whose work has proven successful.

I see three ways to write a genre novel, once you’ve read enough of them to familiarize yourself with the form: 1) You write from life, with conventions in mind; 2) You write from your own creative imagination; 3) You write mostly from your reading of other writers, striving to ape what’s sold well.

Clearly, the general run of spy novelists are following 3 — a recipe for turning your genre into the kind of derivative pablum that would allow a clever con artist to string together passages from 13 existing books and fool experts into thinking it’s really, really good.

Exceptions must exist, and even from my paltry reading of the genre I can name three: Le Carre — natch!; Oleg Steinhauer, with his average-guy spy, Milo Weaver; and Charles Cumming, who, in books like the excellent Trinity Six, touches the bases while focusing more on character than plot.

But the implications of the Markham/Rowarn to-do are clear: Something stinks in spy thriller game.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2011 2:58 pm

    Hello. “Steve” here again with two more bits of damning evidence (not that more is needed at this point). On his blog today, novelist Jeremy Duns shares a few e-mail messages that Quentin Rowan sent him. In those messages, Rowan mentions his admiration for Charles McCarry, the thriller author he stole from perhaps more than any other. Here’s a link:

    http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/2011/11/highway-robbery-mask-of-knowing-in.html

    I ask you: If Rowan meant to expose the repetitive emptiness of the spy thriller, why would he chose to steal passage after passage from a writer he thought was *good*? Wouldn’t he have instead cobbled together bits and pieces from thrillers that were technically proficient but artistically bankrupt? It doesn’t make any sense — unless Rowan was simply stealing material he wanted to take credit for himself.

    And I suppose this isn’t exactly damning, as advertised above, but I think it is a question that Rowan’s defenders (what few are left) should ask themselves: Where is the guy? If this is a brilliant prank, why didn’t he tell the punchline himself? Where’s the mocking manifesto he should’ve had ready the day the book was released? Where’s his satirical YouTube rant about assembly line publishing? Instead of springing the “It’s a mashup!” trap himself, he got caught and then simply slinked away into the shadows. That’s not the behavior of a daring provocateur. It’s the behavior of a thief.

    One last thought for you, Chauncey. Before you use Rowan’s creation to damn all the thriller genre, perhaps you should take a look at McCarry’s work. I haven’t read it myself, but it sounds idiosyncratic and intelligent. Perhaps Rowan won all that praise because he stole so much from someone who was producing legitimately interesting work.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 10, 2011 3:54 pm

      I’ve heard good things about McCarry, too, and as I say in the blog, I can testify from personal experience that writers such as Oleg Steinhauer and Charles Cumming have produced first-rate work. But regardless of how pathetic Rowan may be — and an idiot, too! Exposed, all he had to do was claim it was a prank, and he’d be taken seriously — the evidence is stark: Experts, people with a lot more expertise in the spy genre than I have, were effortlessly fooled. This cannot mean anything good for the genre in general.

      Thanks for your astute comments. You’ve elevated the conversation. Please come back with more.

      • November 10, 2011 6:04 pm

        Why is it about the genre? The Paris Review and BOMB also published short stories ‘by’ Quentin Rowan, one plagiarizing Graham Greene and one plagiarizing Nicholas Mosley. Does that stink, too? I find your remark that because I and others didn’t happen to catch that he had plagiarized several novels written many years ago, most of which I for one had never read, this means that spy novelists ‘are copying the work of other writers whose work has proven successful’. No, actually, I am not, and don’t appreciate the suggestion at all.

        The idea that this was a ruse or a form of art to poke one in the eye for the publishing industry is obviously silly if you think about it for about thirty seconds. An undeclared experiment in which I am very likely to be sued by my publishers, as well Ian Fleming Publications and the estate of Robert Ludlum? Oh, yes, that sounds like a swell idea, which will really show those fools in publishing!

        Steve kindly linked to my blog post, which I hope you read, as you’ll be able to understand why it was not so easy to spot. I hope once you have you might come back and admit that you’re wrong, and withdraw your snide, insulting and grossly unfair comments about novelists who happen to write abpout spies, but do so honestly without ‘copying’ anyone. And please don’t try to make out that when you claimed that spy novelists s ago, most of which I for one had never read, this means that spy novelists ‘are copying the work of other writers whose work has proven successful’ you didn’t mean copying, but some other work. Your adolescent posturing on this issue is already very apparent, so I’d appreciate some honesty, rather than more bluster and gloating over others’ misfortune – and indeed blaming the victims.

        Sorry for ranting. But really!

  2. November 10, 2011 6:13 pm

    Apologies also for the collapse in my grammar and sentence structure, but this piece made my blood boil. Please read my blog post, which contains excerpts from the book and his plagiarized sources, analysis of how he put them together, emails from Rowan and more. I think – hope you will see – that you are barking up quite the wrong tree.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 10, 2011 11:18 pm

      Understandable. Let me say: I, too, linked to your blog. But the fact no one — not a single editor, critic, or blurbing novelist — noticed that Rowan’s novel was slapped together out of pieces of 13 (!) other novels is an embarrassment that requires some thought and explanation. To me it suggests the general run of spy novels has become derivative and degenerate. What’s your explanation? Or are you just going to hide behind the label of “victim?”

      • November 11, 2011 3:13 am

        My explanation is in my latest blog post, which I think makes it abundantly clear why it is very difficult for a handful of people to catch cleverly stitched together plagiarisms from 13 novels published in the last 30 years out of the many thousands that are there:

        http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/2011/11/highway-robbery-mask-of-knowing-in.html

        I suggest you do me the courtesy of reading it – you evidently haven’t! – instead of repeating the same nonsense here and in messages to me on Twitter, and then reconsider your insulting suggestion that it means that anyone other than Quentin Rowan is at fault here, let alone that it casts aspersions on other novelists’ own work (talk about missing the point). I suggest you specifically read the excerpt from the book that I posted, and see if you can really spot instantly that, ‘oh, that of course, is from a 1999 Bond novel and two Charles McCarry books, one from 1974 and one from 1991’. Why should anyone else have done? I think once it was published, with many more eyes on it, it was inevitable that *someone* would spot it, but I have a pretty wide reading in this genre and didn’t see it, and would not expect my editor to be able to spot sentences from random spy novels in a text when not looking for it. So please stop trying to make silly gloating points and think again, You didn’t answer my point about the Paris Review or BOMB, either. And The Manchurian Candidate was published in 1959, and was riddled with plagiairisms. Presumably this also means the entire genre has been (without anyone noticing) in serious trouble, because not even many of its hundreds of thousands of readers noticed until the 1990s. The Rachel Papers was plagiarized by Jacob Epstein in 1980 in his novel Wild Oats in a very similar way to this, and published by Little, Brown as well, incidentally, and that was not spotted by the dozen or so people who read that. Presumably tht means the entire ‘literary genre’ is in serious trouble, too? O

        What’s your explanmation for still not having addressed any of these now stark-staringly obvious points? Or are you just going toi hide behind your tissue-thin condescending ‘argument’ at all costs?

  3. November 11, 2011 10:57 am

    It got garbled above, but what I meant to write was ‘And please don’t try to make out that when you claimed that spy novelists ‘are copying the work of other writers whose work has proven successful’ you didn’t mean copying, but some other word. Your adolescent posturing on this issue is already very apparent, so I’d appreciate some honesty, rather than more bluster and gloating over others’ misfortune – and indeed blaming the victims.’

    What a disapppointment, if hardly a surprise, then, to receive a private message from you on Twitter claiming that by using the word copying you meant imitating, not plagiarizing.

    Your bluster is still very apparent, your argument total gibberish. Rowan plagiarized in 2002 in the Paris Review, and also in BOMB. All literary writers are therefore copying. Sorry, imitating.

    I’m not impressed at all, and would appreciate an honest reply, and perhaps even an apology, if you’re man enough to admit you were talking BS when clearly shown it. But somehow, I doubt I’ll get either, but more bluster and adolescent claptrap disguised as deep thought.

  4. Brian A. Dixon permalink
    November 11, 2011 11:55 am

    There is nothing delicious about the “Assassin of Secrets” fraud. To use the Quentin Rowan affair to damn the genre of the spy thriller is both absurd and offensive–especially, as Duns quite rightly points out, when the language being employed here suggests that all authors of that genre are prone to “copying,” that even the most talented spy novelists are plagiarists of a sort. Whatever you might think of their writing, the likes of John Gardner and Charles McCarry deserve better than that. Rowan’s artistic crime may prompt us to reflect on the individual narratives that he used to create “Assassin of Secrets” but in no way does it damn by default his genre of choice. If you seek to convincingly establish the spy genre as “derivative pablum,” the work of Q. R. Markham should not be the linchpin of the argument.

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 11, 2011 12:49 pm

    Oh, dear. I seem to have upset Mr. Duns, who is very angry with me. Understandable. He has been publicly duped by a clever fraud, an experience that cannot be fun. If he feels better venting his anguish on me, I have no objection.

    A few points. I have gone out of my way, in both my blog entries and “the private messages” Mr. Duns so graciously shares here, to praise the dignity of the way he has handled this difficult situation. His response is such that I am now wiping spittle from my face. Sigh.

    When I used the word “copying” in connection with the spy thriller genre, as I explained to Mr. Duns, I meant “imitating.” The first definition for the word “copy” (as a noun) at Dictionary.com is “imitation.” The third definition of copy (as a veb) is “to follow a pattern or model; imitate.”

    In our private exchange Mr. Duns mocked my resorting to an Internet dictionary, but the text of the entry is very similar to that of the venerable American Heritage over there on my dictionary stand. Dictionary.com includes etymologies, which is my gold-plate standard for a worthwhile dictionary.

    But for those with an enfeebled grasp of the English language, let me state clearly. I did not mean to say that spy novelists are running around plagiarizing one another willy-nilly. I meant that the majority of them seem to be “following a pattern” established by successful writers who have preceded them. They are not copying the way a cheater copies someone’s test paper, they are copying the way a young slugger seeks to imitate Albert Pujols’s swing.

    I am confident that meaning is clear from the context of my blog posts, but if not, then here you are, the matter explained to the point of tedium.

    I also take pains, in my blogs, to offer a few examples of spy thrillers from my admittedly sparse reading of the genre that seem to me to avoid excessive derivativeness. Therefore I do not condemn the genre wholesale.

    As for seeking to equate the Assassins of Secrets scandal with the publication of plagiarized Rowan work in the Paris Review or BOMB, I don’t think so. By definition a spy novelist, editor, or critic is a specialist. A specialist, by definition, possesses specialized knowledge.

    How could a spy novelist, editor or critic be unfamiliar with the likes of Charles McCarry or John Gardner? These are no obscure writers, but leaders of the genre.That’s like a literary critic, writer, or editor having not read Mailer or Updike or Oates.

    What really stands out about the Assassins scandal, however, is not that the experts failed to detect the source texts, but that they failed to detect the transition from one plagiarized passage to the next. This, more than anything, is what suggests to me that spy thrillers have entered a degenerate phase where most of the writing is so similar it cannot be easily identified. The same could be said for the “bestsellerse” of the 1970s, when I was coming of age, when Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, Sydney Sheldon, and any number of other writers churned out bestsellers that sounded all exactly alike.

    As I’ve mentioned earlier, and this is probably my last word on this matter, the Assassins affair has other implications. David Shields, anyone? Not one person attacking me has even mentioned the David Shields aspect. And finally, there is something in the human breast that loves a good hoax or fraud, no matter how evil its consequences. Will we ever get enough of Bernie Madoff? You cannot change human nature, I’m afraid.

    So, no, Mr. Duns, you will not get an apology from me, nor an admission that I’m a larval stage of some inferior life form. For one thing, I am not the one who has harmed you, and for another, my blogs and comments are in the public realm for others to agree or disagree with. You seem to want to control my reaction, which is neither possible nor appropriate.

    Chin up! Except for the diatribes shrilled in my direction, you have handled yourself well. This whole thing is a pebble in the water. Your genre is as popular as ever and this brief scandal, however entertaining, will not alienate a single reader. If I may offer a suggestion, take all this energy and effort and apply it to your next novel, Mr. Duns. The sooner you put this behind you, the sooner it will stop mattering quite so much, and the sooner you can regain your equanimity.

    In spite of your discourtesies, Mr. Duns, I wish you no ill will. Live long and prosper.

    PS. Oh, and to Mr. Dixon: I do not wish to “convincingly establish” anything. I am merely making observations and pointing out some implications. I must say, except for the small matter of character assassination, I’m gratified by the discussion that has come about. Unlike Mr. Duns, I do not get peeved with others disagree with my interpretation of things.

  6. stevemosby permalink
    November 11, 2011 2:30 pm

    Chauncey –

    “When I used the word “copying” in connection with the spy thriller genre, as I explained to Mr. Duns, I meant “imitating.””

    In your original post you differentiate between “copying” and “observing convention”, so it’s not unreasonable for the reader to assume you’re using “copying” to mean “literally copying”. Especially given the fact that your argument – if you’ll pardon the overstatement – is being made off the back of a case of explicit literal copying and not imitation. If anything, this confusion might be an act of generosity on the reader’s part to presume your conclusion is in some way related to your premises.

    It’s Olen Steinhauer, incidentally, not Oleg.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 11, 2011 2:39 pm

      Thanks for the correction on Olen Steinhauer’s name. I have no copy editor and sometimes fail to catch my own typos.

      I think it’s clear in my original post that I’m talking about stylistic and structural imitation, but if not, then I have now made it explicitly clear that I did NOT mean to suggest that thriller writers are by nature or practice plagiarists.

      Equally clear is my observation that the failure of experts in the field to detect the plagiarism suggest spy thrillers are in a degenerate and excessively derivative stage.

      Oh, never mind.

  7. November 11, 2011 3:02 pm

    I am not seeking to control your reaction – I am merely responding to it.

    You chose to initiate the argument with me via private message on Twitter, not me.

    Charles McCarry has written 12 spy novels. Raymond Benson wrote 9 Bond novels. John Gardner wrote 16 Bond novels, as well over 20 other spy novels. Robert Ludlum also wrote around 20 spy thrillers.

    I’ve read hundreds of spy novels, and write spy novels for a living. I happened to have read two McCarry novels that were plagiarized, three of the Gardners, one of the Bensons, one of the Ludlums, all many years earlier. I’d never even heard of Geoffrey O’Brien. If one were to read all the ‘leaders of the genre’ you would be looking at the collected works of, at the very least:

    Eric Ambler (18 novels)
    John le Carré (22 novels)
    Len Deighton (25 novels)
    Ian Fleming (12 novels)
    Adam Hall (19 novels)
    Alan Furst (14 novels)
    Charles McCarry (12 novels)
    John Gardner (36 novels)

    But let’s also add Edward Aarons, Jeff Abbott, Ted Allbeury, Evelyn Anthony, Campbell Armstrong, Philip Atlee, Desmond Bagley, David Baldacci, Jean Bruce, John Buchan, William F. Buckley, Victor Canning, Erskine Childers, Tom Clancy, Jon Cleary, Richard Condon, Stephen Coonts, Martin Cruz Smith, Charles Cumming, Clive Cussler, Lionel Davidson, Nelson De Mille, Adam Diment, Daniel Easterman, Clive Egleton, Barry Eisler, Sean Flannery/ David Hagberg, Joseph Finder, Ken Follett, Bryan Forbes, Colin Forbes, Frederick Forsyth, Bill Granger, Graham Greene, Jan Guillou, William Haggard, Donald Hamilton, Robert Harris, Michael Hartland, Jack Higgins, Joseph Hone, Geoffrey Household, E Howard Hunt, Stephen Hunter, Noel Hynd, Hammond Innes, Geoffrey Jenkins, Joseph Kanon, Philip Kerr, Robert Littell, Eric Van Lustbader, Gavin Lyall, Gayle Lynds, Helen MacInnes, Alistair Maclean, Derek Marlowe, John R. Maxim, James Mayo, JK Mayo, James Mitchell/James Munro, David Morrell, Peter O’Donnell, Anthony Price, Christopher Reich, Julian Semyonov, Gerald Seymour, Daniel Silva, Craig Thomas, Ross Thomas, John Trenhaile, Trevanian, Dennis Wheatley and Alan Williams.

    That would be a fair grounding, I think. All editors at major publishing houses who receive submissions of spy novels should, at least, have read all of these, I think. They’ll be 102, but hey, they might meet your approval. And if they’re editors of crime fiction, too? Oh, well… let’s see…

    Thousands of spy novels have been published in the last half-century alone. Quentin Rowan plagiarized aabout a dozen, many out of print and long-forgotten. McCarry is critically acclaimed, but Second Sight is not regarded as a classic of the genre in the way Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is, and it makes up a large portion of this book.

    I think it might be reasonable for publishers now to start running random passages of all their submissions through plagiarism-detection software as a matter of routine, but I don’t think Rowan’s plagiarism of ‘leaders of the genre’ reflects poorly at all on the dozen or so people who missed this before it reached wider eyes, when a Bond fan who remembered Licence Renewed (a best-seller, yes, but in 1981, and largely forgotten now) spotted a verbatim passage. I’ve read Licence Renewed and didn’t spot it – outrage! Or just not as good a memory as one diehard Bond fan.

    I don’t think it is at all reasonable to blame editors for not being familiar enough with the genre in this case, because even if you had read all the spy novels in existence, you would have to *remember* them, too, in order to recognize sentences taken out of context from a handful. I think you have extrapolated from this episode something that simply is not there – perhaps to be contrary? Perhaps to garner traffic from your blog? I don’t know, but however you parse your wording, your argument is hollow and insulting. In 1980, Little, Brown published WIld Oats by Jacob Epstein, which was later found to have been largely plagiarized from The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. This did not mean that literary fiction was so generic that it was unable to be spotted – simply that there are millions of books one can plagiarize, and it just so happens that the editors didn’t. Richard Condon plagiarized I, Claudius in The Manchurian Candidate, and it was not spotted by hundreds of thousands of readers for decades. Quentin Rowan plagiarized Nicholas Mosley in 2003, and Graham Greene in 2002, the latter in the Paris Review. And yet you don’t seem to think ‘something stinks’ in the literary fiction game.

    You appear offended that I called out your absurd and insulting argument and exposed you for the poseur you are. So be it. But yes, your argument is here for all to see, as is my rebuttal, and I think it’s clear yours totally misses the target.

    Nobody is to blame for Quentin Rowan’s plagiarism apart from Quentin Rowan.

  8. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 11, 2011 3:13 pm

    Sigh. Now you’ve resorted to name calling and excuse making.

  9. Jeremy Duns permalink
    November 11, 2011 3:30 pm

    No, I don’t think so: I think your essay above is name-calling, in fact, and apportions blame to entirely the wrong people, including me, as I am a spy novelist. I don’t think I have to make any excuses as I haven’t done anything wrong, and I think calling you a poseur is being rather polite in the circumstances. Not having read (and remembered) Charles McCarry’s Second Sight or 12 other spy novels doesn’t make an editor, or anyone else, to blame for this – that level of expertise is impossible. And it does not say anything at all about the genre. This could have happened in any other genre, including literary fiction, and has done.

    I’m not peeved because you disagree with my interpreation, but because yours is insulting to honest editors and writers, and I hoped you would have been man enough to admit it. Sadly, it is clear you’re not.

  10. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 11, 2011 5:19 pm

    By now I have congratulated you, Mr. Duns, multiple times on your dignity in this mess, but I am afraid that dignity has begun to fray. Your childish sense of hurt is leading you badly astray and your are making a graceless fool of yourself. Let it go, I implore you.

    I must say, though, that I can hardly believe you are actually arguing that it is too much trouble, as spy novelist, for you to keep up with the major texts in your own genre. That takes my breath away. Imagine, if doctors, or philosophers, or engineers, or English professors felt that way. “Oh, I love being a physician, but I can’t be bothered to read all those pesky medical journals.” I cannot imagine a more risible position for anyone in any field.

    I mean, we’re not talking about, say, English poetry since Chaucer. Edmund Skellings, the poet laureate of Florida, once told me that any serious poet must read and know by heart English poetry since the 14th century. And when he said by heart, he meant it. In the three years I knew him well, I never stumped him with a poem. He recited each and every one off the top of his head. Occasionally he stumbled, but then he was in his mid-70s.

    And yet you can’t be bothered to read the important books published in the spy genre–most of which are meant to be undemanding entertainments? You would be well advised to keep that to yourself.

    Now that I know it, I find it impossible to take you seriously.

    Oh, and I see now that nothing you say can be trusted. You accuse me of initiating this argument on Twitter. Here is the entire text of my first Twitter message to you, congenial in tone I think everyone will agree:

    cmabe55
    Thanks for the follow, happy to reciprocate. Maybe I had overmuch fun with the Assassins story, but I admire the way you handled yourself.
    23 hours ago.

    And here are your next two messages back to me, the first one friendly:

    jeremyduns
    Appreciated. I’m just anxious not to play into this little sleazbeall’s hands by giving him some kind of kudos he might enjoy.
    23 hours ago

    jeremyduns
    And, having read your blog again, my blood boiled. I think it’s pretty insulting to suggest his victims are to blame. Read my blog, please.
    22 hours ago.

    Ten messages later, after you’ve accused me of “gibberish” and “BS,” I’m still writing:

    cmabe55
    Your blog is nicely done. You continue to wreath yourself in dignity. But you cannot control the reaction and interpretation of others.
    6 hours ago

    Your response, in your next two messages, is to revile me for “weasling” and “bullshit.”

    The texts of these Twitter messages make it explicitly clear which of us cast the first stone, and your assertion that I started this argument is either delusional or an outright lie.

    What conclusion are we to draw regarding a person who resorts to misrepresenting an exchange for which there is an easily accessed written record? Not a good one, I’m afraid.

    Goodbye, Mr. Duns. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do.

  11. November 11, 2011 6:06 pm

    Chauncey – It seems you still haven’t read the blog post Jeremy has pointed out to you a few times. Here’s the most important part of it, which answers your argument about people not noticing it earlier…

    “I’m fairly widely read in the genre, I think, but I haven’t read every spy novel ever published, don’t have a photographic memory, and quite simply wasn’t looking for this.”

    This contains the most important, in my opinion, points. No photographic memory for one. (I’d contest you would find it difficult to quote completely something you read 10 years ago, heck even your favourite novel you’d find near impossible to remember every single line of prose) and not looking for it in the first place. As a reader, do you approach every novel you read looking for plagiarism? Again, if you’re not looking for it, you’re unlikely to notice it.

    To contest Jeremy must memorise every passage of the genre within which he writes, is a quite ridiculous assertion.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 11, 2011 6:53 pm

      I’m not suggesting Mr. Duns must memorize every passage of the genre — that would be cruel and unusual and would probably result in utter derangement. By the same token I doubt many poets have read, let alone memorized, every significant poem since Chaucer. My friend Ed is an extraordinary personage. I was making a point, which you choose to ignore.

      But to quote Mr. Duns, after listing an array of spy novels and writers he apparently thinks is impressive: “All editors at major publishing houses who receive submissions of spy novels should, at least, have read all of these, I think. They’ll be 102, but hey, they might meet your approval. And if they’re editors of crime fiction, too? Oh, well… let’s see…”

      They will not be 102. Experts in other fields apply themselves and routinely manage that kind of reading load. Maybe Mr. Duns prefers Law & Order?

      It would not seem so odd if only one person, say Mr. Duns, had failed to detect the plagiarism in Assassin of Secrets. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody, not even an expert, knows everything or can be at the top of his game every single day. But when several experts fail to notice, then a pattern emerges. I’ve already suggested, more than once, what that pattern may be.

  12. November 11, 2011 7:56 pm

    ‘By now I have congratulated you, Mr. Duns, multiple times on your dignity in this mess, but I am afraid that dignity has begun to fray. Your childish sense of hurt is leading you badly astray and your are making a graceless fool of yourself.’

    You seem to be forgetting the part where you wrote ‘This failure — Little, Brown published the book, critics praised it, authors blurbed it — suggests strongly that spy novelists are not merely observing convention when they write. They are copying the work of other writers whose work has proven successful.’ I blurbed the book, and am a spy novelist, and the idea that I am ‘not merely observing convention’ in my own novels, but copying – or imitating – that of others who are more successful because I failed to spot this plagiarism earlier is insulting.

    ‘I must say, though, that I can hardly believe you are actually arguing that it is too much trouble, as spy novelist, for you to keep up with the major texts in your own genre. That takes my breath away. Imagine, if doctors, or philosophers, or engineers, or English professors felt that way. “Oh, I love being a physician, but I can’t be bothered to read all those pesky medical journals.” I cannot imagine a more risible position for anyone in any field.’

    Not if you’d read my comment above, where I point out just how wide the field is. It’s easy to say once someone has plagiarized Charles McCarry and John Gardner that *they* are ‘leaders of the genre’ and that anyone involved in editing or writing spy fiction should have, at minimum, read every one of their works – but it’s rather convenient. The truth is neither are leaders of the genre (and James Bamford and Geoffrey O’Brien aren’t even in the genre). Charles McCarry is a critically acclaimed spy novelist, true, but many of his works are obscure, and I don’t think there is any professional shame in my not having read all his novels. John Gardner is not widely seen as a leading proponent of the genre either, or at least not in the ‘premier league’, which I would say is probably le Carre, Deighton, Fleming, Buchan, Ambler, Greene, and perhaps a few others – to read the top ten leaders of the genre would run to several hundred books. John Gardner probably isn’t in that top ten, by most reckonings. He wrote some acclaimed but mostly forgotten serious spy novels, of which I have read a couple about 10 years ago; the Boysie Oakes series, of which I’ve read several, again years ago (I do not make a list of all the spy fiction I have read); and he wrote several post-Fleming Bond novels, of which I have read a few several years ago, which were widely read but are not highly acclaimed (and which were the ones Quentin Rowan stole from). I would guess that if you found someone who had read every novel by Charles McCarry and John Gardner, you’d probably be looking at one of the world’s most serious spy buffs. As I indicated above, there have been many thousands of spy novels published in the last half-century, and to suggest editors and novelists should have read them all is absurd. I think even reading the ‘acknowledged major texts’, would involve having read several hundred books, and possibly more.

    ‘Experts in other fields apply themselves and routinely manage that kind of reading load.’

    I don’t think they do, really. My editor in the US, for example, does not just edit spy fiction. She also edits crime novels, non-fiction and literary fiction. I would say that to edit crime fiction you probably should have read a lot of crime novels, and to edit spy fiction a lot of spy novels. But even if you’d read tons of them, it would still be a fraction of the canon. All of Sherlock Holmes would be a prerequisite, no? But someone might plagiarize John Gardner’s Moriarty. Well, all Holmes spin-offs, then. Oh, I’m already dead and have yet to start on Agatha Christie. It would take a lifetime. I read almost every novel by Dennis Wheatley a while back – 70 or so – and that took me well over a year. And he is almost totally forgotten these days, but sold millions of books in his day, and was also a massive (and largely unspotted) influence on Ian Fleming.

    Your idea that novelists and editors should have read so widely also contradict your earlier point. Up until 2007, I read tons of spy thrillers. My flat is groaning with them. Then I started to write my own. Precisely to avoid what you complain of, ie derivation or imitation of others, I stopped reading them. I still read them occasionally, such as my Wheatley jag, but Assassin of Secrets was a relative rarity for me. I think I know enough about spy fiction’s history and how it works to write my own novels, but I no longer want to read too many books in the genre because I suspect the ideas in them may subconsciously rub off on me. It is also the case that when I read another spy novel, I start worrying that my own stuff is too similar, even if it isn’t, and I find it distracting and disrupting to my own creative juices. But if I stay generally clear of it, I know my own work is original, as it comes solely from me struggling to come up with something new. I know several writers who are the same. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in this at all.

    ‘You accuse me of initiating this argument on Twitter. Here is the entire text of my first Twitter message to you, congenial in tone I think everyone will agree:

    cmabe55
    Thanks for the follow, happy to reciprocate. Maybe I had overmuch fun with the Assassins story, but I admire the way you handled yourself…’

    Yes, but you don’t mention that you sent me that by private message, after I had followed you and asked you directly and in public:

    ‘@cmabe55 If ‘damning to the entire genre’ and spy novelists are simply ‘copying’ (!), how do you explain his Paris Review story in 2002?’

    You chose not to answer me publicly via Twitter, but sent me that private message instead. You also didn’t alter your blog post here, in which you had had your self-confessed overmuch fun. When you still failed to respond to to my public question about the Paris Review – and you have still failed to respond to that now! – either on Twitter or here on this blog, it annoyed me. And reading this blog post again, I became more annoyed and informed you via private message of that. I did it via private message because you had not replied to me publicly but done so privately, so I thought it would be more courteous that way than, after receiving your private but seemingly somewhat conciliatory message, to launch at you in public again. So I told you privately it annoyed me privately and said ‘Read my blog, please’. You replied to me a fgew more times, but it was clear from what you were writing that you hadn’t read my latest blog post, and it occurred to me that you were only replying to me in private messages so that your Twitter feed and your blog didn’t show how hollow your argument was. I called you on that in provate, and I also called you on it here. I also asked you not to pretend that your accusation of ‘copying’ meant something other than it did. But you did that anyway…

    But yes, I am investing too much time in this. I suppose I’m hoping some more sensible souls will see through your rather grandiose nonsense, and I hate to see it sit there unchallenged.

    Finally, on the inadvisability of easily accessed written records, here is something you posted to your Facebook wall to link to your previous spurious post on this:

    ‘A brilliant act of literary sabotage reveals spy thrillers to be narrative canned corn.’

    I think this shows what your argument really is, stripped of all its pretension. Your admiration for Rowan’s ‘brilliance’ and extrapolation that this reveals anything about the genre – you still haven’t addressed the Paris Review or BOMB – is, frankly, adolescent. It reminds me of Charles Highway, the protagonist of The Rachel Papers. To find out what I mean by that, you’ll have to read my latest blog entry, where I have in fact already countered every pompous point you’ve made here, but which you quite obviously still haven’t read.

    Sorry to have lost my rag a little, as well as my command of spelling, but claiming that I copy others’ work because someone else is a plagiarist, and that ‘Something stinks in spy thriller game’ for the same reason, and in all in this rather grand hail-fellow-well-met-cum-authoritative tone, sticks in my craw.

  13. November 11, 2011 8:01 pm

    Grr, tons of typos! Must read through first.

    If you do read my blog post, you will spot an email from Rowan I have just received in the comments. It may make you rethink your idea that he did this to expose the spy thriller genre. Then again, I suspect you will double down rather than admit you’re dead wrong.

  14. Keen Reader permalink
    September 12, 2013 7:52 pm

    This Chauncey chancer is impervious.

  15. April 30, 2014 5:58 pm

    Excellent blog post. I certainly love this website. Continue the good work!

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