The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Reviews

Deni Dietz

Disclaimer: Some of my best friends are reviewers…


To read a review, or not to read a review: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous reviews,
Or to take arms against a sea of reviewers,
And by ignoring end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To read a review, to ignore a review: perchance to skim a review [and look for a line to quote, even if you have to use three dots]: aye, there’s the rub; For in that review of death what dreams may crush…

Responding to critics of Carnal Knowledge, Mike Nichols said, "A critic at a movie is a eunuch at a gangbang."

Which made me think…

How many times have we banged our heads against our keyboards because the person who reviewed our books didn’t "get it"?

Or even worse, didn’t read it?

Or was just plain nasty?

When my history-mystery-romance Dream Dancer came out, a reviewer whom I’ll call Ms. Axtogrind attacked me personally, then said that halfway through the book my hero burned to death in a circus fire. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say my hero didn’t die, though my heroine thought he did. Ms. Axtogrind was fired shortly thereafter (apparently, I wasn’t the only author to experience her misguided slings and arrows), but her vitriolic rhetoric impacted my sales. After all, would you buy a romance where the hero burns to death?

Unless, of course, the hero is Joan of Arc.

Long before the advent of blogs, I began collecting "weird review data." My thought was to – someday – write an article. Here are a few of my favorites:

Jack Williamson, a science fiction author, got a review which said he wrote like a comic strip writer. Someone saw the review and hired Williamson to write a SF comic strip called "Beyond Mars."

Writing about John Wassermann’s novel, Exit Wounds, a reviewer said, "Clearly the author has never been inside a police station. His policemen are vulgar and crass." Westermann, who spent 21 years as a cop, said, "Crass and vulgar? Some of my people consider it an art form."

When Greg Herron’s Murder in the Rue Dauphine was reviewed, the one thing the reviewer harped on was that "outside of the main character, Herron doesn’t get inside the heads of his characters. It would have been nice to know what was going on inside their heads as well." Considering the fact that the novel was written in first-person and the main character wasn’t a psychic, Herron kind of scratched his head over that one.

In a review of an anthology of Civil War stories, the reviewer assumed Patti (P.G.) Nagle’s story was a romance because of its title, The Courtship of Captain Swenk. "He obviously hadn’t read the story," Patti said, "because it wasn’t romantic at all. The Captain is courting an old battleaxe widow as an excuse for spying activities."

Janet Dawson’s PW review for Where the Bodies are Buried sniped at her because her heroine/sleuth didn’t figure out who the killer was until the end of the book. [‘Nuff said, although Janet says, "That was the most idiotic hatchet job I’ve ever seen."]

The same week the New York Times called Robert Rosenberg’s first book, Crimes of the City, the most notable thriller of 1991, the reviewer in Ha’arentz said it was a cartoon. "But I think the reviewer issue should be put in perspective," Robert said. "While my agent was trying to sell my first book, I kept asking for the rejections and she kept saying no. Finally, after she found a publisher (Simon & Shuster), she sent me a sampling of the rejections. One editor wrote: ‘The plotting is elegant, the writing pedestrian, and the characters are flat.’ Another editor wrote: ‘The writing is elegant, the plotting pedestrian and the characters are lively.’ And a third wrote that the writing was flat, the characters interesting and the plotting terrific. In other words, one can only wonder if they read the same book!"

And finally, Joe Scarpato says his favorite pan was a one-word summation of A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery. Joe simply wrote "Pooh!"

Have you ever thanked a reviewer for a review? Recently a Sisters in Crime sib posted (on the SinC loop) that she’d be attending Bouchercon for the very first time and that she was the author of a horror novel. I responded privately. I told her that I was a sucker for horror novels and I’d be happy to meet her for a cup of coffee or to hoist a mug. I said that I’ve been attending Bouchercons since before Noah learned to count and, although Bouchercon seems a wee bit overwhelming, it’s really not. She wrote back: "I’d love to get together. But in a way we’ve already met. I recognized your name and went to my files and sure enough I’d reviewed Beat Up A Cookie in ’94.  You sent me a letter thanking me and at the bottom you said, ‘I hope we meet some day, so that I can reiterate–in person–just how much your COOKIE review meant to me.’ Wow.  What are the odds?  So I’m really looking forward to meeting you now."

And that’s my quote of the week! 🙂

Household Hint from Eye of Newt‘s Aunt Lillian:

To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the bag with the potatoes.

Authors reading this blog: Please email your favorite [outrageous] review stories to me at  and I’ll include them — with links to your blog and/or website — in a future Quibbles & Bits

…or in that article I plan to write someday.

Over and Out,

9 thoughts on “The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Reviews

  1. Beatrice Brooks

    Hi, Ron. True, reviewing books isn’t a science. I reviewed books [and movies] for a Texas newspaper under the pseudonym “Bosley Craw.” And yes, it’s the luck of the draw. PW has reviewed most of my books, but the only rave I’ve ever received was for an oddball, cross-over mystery-horror novel called Fifty Cents For your Soul. The PW reviewer (nameless; they all are] said, “Horror and Hollywood noir – who can resist?”


  2. Linda L. Richards

    Great post, Deni! And, oy! The stories I could tell, from both sides of the desk. I’ll save it, though: I’d be here all day. Though, yes: I have thanked reviewers. (Not with cars or anything, but with nice words.) And, as a reviewer, I’ve been thanked. To be honest, though, when those thanks come because I’ve given a really terrific review to a book I really loved, I generally feel the thanks should be all on my side.

    And one further comment: really a snippet to add to your collection. (I blogged about this recently myself, but the comments are so awful, they’re worth spreadin’ around.)

    These quotes are cherry picked from a recent review in The Sunday Times’ by Neel Mukherjee. The review is of Irvine Welsh’s new book, Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chef:

    Irvine Welsh’s sixth novel is so awful that, to paraphrase James Wood, it invents its own category of awfulness.


    This is a demeaning book that cants the reader’s soul downwards, making it feel complicit with the writer’s dishonest short-changing of his readership, telling them that this lazy, dishonest, appallingly written rubbish is the real thing while laughing all the way to the bank as a result of our gullibility.

    I don’t think things can get any worse than that.

  3. Beatrice Brooks

    Linda, I kind of feel for Welsh, but since he’s laughing all the way to the bank I’ll subdue my sympathy 🙂

    However, the review snippets were well-written [I love the James Wood paraphrase]. It’s the nitwits who criticize an author for solving a mystery at the end of the book – Janet said, “As though there would have been a rest of the book if my sleuth had figured out whodunit in the middle. Please!” – that give me a headache.

    If I want to keep my own books updated, dialogue-wise, all I have to do is visit and read the forum “reviews” of shows like Rock Star Super Nova. To quote the people on that forum: “Hee!”


  4. Elaine

    Oh,Deni! Thanks for the morning laughs! And I loved Linda’s offerings!

    I’ve always thanked reviewers – but I never thought about buying them a car. Think that might work?

  5. Beatrice Brooks

    Elaine, works for me!

    Remember that rave PW review I mentioned earlier…?

    I honestly don’t remember if it was a Honda or an Escort.

    As a reviewer, I can be bought. Can you say Godiva?


  6. Pari

    Hey, Deni,This was a great piece. Thanks.

    Did you know that both Williamson and Nagle live in New Mexico? What is it with reviewers and my home state anyway?

    I haven’t gotten many really awful reviews. One, on Amazon, I am convinced was written by my half-sister (she despises me). The other was in the Salt Lake City main paper and basically condemned me for writing a fun mystery. Oh, well.

    I’ve written few thank-yous for reviews. I did send one to a fellow journalist at the Albuquerque Tribune who grudgingly gave praise (really in an underhanded way). I thanked her for reading my book, especially since it was apparent that she really didn’t like the genre at all. I was nice about it . . . really . . . but felt that something needed to be said since she was a co-worker. She wrote me a lovely note back.

  7. Rex Anderson

    Mega-entertaining, as usual, Denise!

    Yes, reviews– and reviewers– can be maddening, but I’ll always remember what my first editor, the wonderful Barbara Norville, who was then with Simon & Schuster, told me about reviews: “If your name’s spelled correctly, it’s a win.”



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