The problem with reviewing books

I used to review a lot of books. Like many people I would mostly opine through the pages of Amazon. However, since around 2010 or so, I have largely modified my approach.

Why? Well it is quite simply because some people, for reasons best known to themselves, actually seem to pay some attention to what I say. It’s a compliment to be sure but the theoretical power it gives me is rather unnerving.

I think I've made my likes and dislikes (in Sherlockian/Doylean books) pretty clear. Yet, as an author who has received both positive and negative reviews, I know all too well the impact an overtly negative review can have (regardless of whether or not it is justified). It was for that reason, some time ago, that I took the decision to only post reviews of books I felt at least 50% positive about.

Trying to work on the old maxim – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all – I have omitted reviewing books that have not pleased me. This allows the authors of books I've not reviewed to at least adopt the position of “perhaps he simply hasn't read it yet”. This of course assumes that they care what I think – most probably don’t.

But am I doing readers a disservice by this approach? Given the sheer volume of Sherlockian material (no matter how tenuous) out there, do I owe it to people to say if I think something is awful? Or should I let them find out for themselves? After all, people are not always going to agree with my assessment.

For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.


  1. I think it has more to do with what you feel most comfortable doing. On my website I review both books that I find good and bad and if I disliked it, I will state why. The thing to remember is not to be rude when you talk about a book that you don't like. It's okay not to like a book and to say that you don't like it just don't deliberately insult the author, his/her fans, etc.

  2. I personally feel no committment whatsoever to help writers of bad pastiches by keeping mum. If someone advertises their book as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and I find out after buying it that it has Holmes only in a supporting role and is mostly about some Mary Sue heroine, I will let them and future buyers know that I'm displeased. Especially, if such writers have amassed a lot of five star reviews on amazon with the help of family and friends. That's cheating in my eyes and I'm not bound to just accept that.

    If you create something which you then try to sell to the public, you better be prepared to deal with honest critique.

  3. What I forgot to mention: Because the Sherlockian world is/was relatively small and everyone knows everyone, or at least knows *of* them, some people seem to feel that they're somehow obliged to like each other's work.

    Dan Andriaccio especially seems to write glowing reviews about everything as long as it has the names Holmes and/or Watson somewhere in the text. How is that helpful? It just means that I for one will take each of his future reviews with a bag of salt after he has lead me astray a few times in the past.

    If you're afraid that you won't be able to look someone in the eye at some Sherlockian event after reviewing their book less than favourably, okay, say nothing. But to endorse every drivel with your name just because it is unlikely that you will ever have to look the average buyer in the eye, is just dishonest in my opinion and also does nothing for your credibility.

  4. If you are regularly viewing books and giving your honest opinion on them, then I believe you owe it to your blog followers to report on those offering that, in your judgment, miss the mark. Not only are you helping your readers wisely spend their hard-earned coin, but by proffering well-thought criticism helping the author of the work under review. The publishing world has changed over the years and it is more likely than ever before that authors will not have had much or any editorial advice. You could, in fact, be a positive influence in that author's next endeavor.

  5. I tend to review Sherlockian works mostly if they stand out. There are, as you mention, so many pastiches and sequels and the like out there that it's impossible to read them all. Many are just a mystery story with Sherlock Holmes as the character, but some are truly excellent in that in addition to being "about" Holmes, they provide a new perspective on the Canon. It is these that I like and generally review - but if I don't like something, it's usually not worth the effort unless, of course, I feel it's *so bad* that it does damage to the very idea of Sherlock Holmes. I haven't encountered many of those, but sometimes - rarely - I take up my pen in a rage rather than to praise.