However, the 47-year-old Ellory has suddenly become the poster boy for the exploitation of a system that contains inadequate safeguards against chicanery of this sort. As The Daily Mail explains:
Novelist R.J. Ellory was forced to make a grovelling apology yesterday after it emerged he had been posting gushing praise of his own work--and attacking others’ novels--under an assumed name on Amazon.Discovery of Ellory’s misbehavior--what’s known in the business as “sock-puppetry,” or the use of an online identity for purposes of deception--was made by Jeremy Duns, a UK spy-fictionist now based in Sweden. Duns, you may recall, was also the person who last year revealed significant plagiarism by Q.R. Markham, author of the debut espionage thriller Assassin of Secrets (which was later removed from store shelves by its publisher). He told the Telegraph that, while he hadn’t been a victim of Ellory’s pseudonymous mischief, he sees sock-puppetry as “pathetic” and worth exposing:
The author, who won the crime novel of the year [award] in 2010, seems to have been using at least two fake identities to rave about his writing on the site.
Posting as ‘Jelly Bean’, he wrote that his novel A Quiet Belief in Angels was ‘one of the most moving books I’ve ever read’.
He continued: ‘It is so beautifully written I felt as though it enabled me to be a part of that era even though that can never actually happen.
'I would highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to experience a class read.’
He also appears to have been posting as ‘Nicodemus Jones’, who described the same novel as a ‘modern masterpiece’.
“I have only met Ellory once and this is not a personal attack, but I feel very strongly that fellow authors shouldn’t write reviews about their own ‘magnificent genius’ and slate the work of other hard-working writers without clearly declaring who they are.The British media say that authors Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride were two prominent targets of Ellory’s online derision. After giving MacBride’s 2010 DS Logan McRae novel, Dark Blood, only one star on the Amazon UK site, Ellory allegedly wrote: “Unfortunately this is another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old Police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK.”
“It is not my job to police it, but I think it is important to highlight what is ‘below the belt’ behaviour, which I have no time for.”
(Left) J. Kingston Pierce and Roger Ellory in San Francisco for Bouchercon 2010.
Now, let me say that Roger Ellory is a friend of mine, and I’ve long found him to be a talented, insightful author. He has always been very kind and generous to me, and I look forward to many long years of drinking and story-swapping together at crime-fiction conventions around the world. Even if all the charges made against him in the press are true, I shall not abandon him as a friend.
However, these allegations of serial sock-puppetry are certainly troubling. I claim no inside information as to his motives, but I can only guess that a combination of prankishness and arrogance lies behind Ellory’s deeds. It would have been manipulation of a lesser sort had he sought simply to pump up his own writing through bogus reviews; we all understand--even if we don’t approve--that people cheat the system of online reviewing if they can get away with it. When Ellory extended his abuse to knocking other writers, though, that took his acts to a higher and less excusable level.
After being confronted with questions about his transgressions, Ellory issued a statement saying, in part: “I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologise to my readers and the writing community.”
For some, it may be too late for mea culpas. Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black and other popular works, is said to have tweeted: “Once you’re found out reviewing yourself glowingly and dissing others your reputation will never ever recover.”
I’m not sure Hill is correct. As I said before, this small-scale, if deliberate attempt to fool readers and perhaps boost book sales seems like a fairly petty scandal. Significantly worse offenses have been overcome by people who were far more in the public eye than Ellory. Perhaps the best he could do is follow the example of another Brit: actor Hugh Grant. After being caught “in the act” with a Hollywood hooker back in 1995, Grant--who was famous at that time for dating gorgeous model-actress Elizabeth Hurley--proceeded to fess up at every opportunity to the idiocy of his actions. By admitting to his misdeeds, rather than trying to duck negative publicity, he retained the support of his fans and earned sympathy from others. Today, most filmgoers probably don’t even remember Grant’s embarrassing affair.
In all likelihood, Ellory’s readers will eventually forgive him his wrongdoings. Though whether other authors forget quite so easily is another question.
I am very sorry that my friend Roger has to go through the public shaming he’s brought upon himself. But I hope he digests the wrongness of his actions, and that the exposure of his abuse of online reviewing stops others from repeating those same errors. We ought to be able to trust that people who pen online reviews do so out of a wish to voice their honest opinions--not out of a nefarious, ethics-free desire to game a fault-ridden system.
READ MORE: “‘I’m Sorry’: Award-winning Crime Novelist Admits Fake Five-star Reviews of His OWN Books,” by Natalie Evans (The Daily Mirror); “A Quiet Belief in Sockpuppets,” by Jedidiah Ayres (Hard-boiled Wonderland); “Women Writers at War Over Fake Book Reviews on Amazon,” by Nick Fagge (The Daily Mail); “Sock Puppetry: Not Just Fun and Games Anymore,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “Fake Reviews Are Just the Start in the Dodgy Art of Publishing Books,” by Terence Blacker (The Independent).