March 24, 2023

Bits Blog: His Biggest Fan Was Himself

The thriller writer R.J. Ellory.Andreu Dalmau/European Pressphoto AgencyThe thriller writer R.J. Ellory.

In a recent article I wrote on faked book reviews on the Internet, a Chicago researcher, Bing Liu, estimated that a third of all online reviews are suspect. Perhaps that seems hard to believe. Surely the bright promise of peer reviews on the Internet has not degenerated so far so fast.

Or maybe it has. A new review scandal that erupted over the weekend in England confirmed the worst suspicions of how some authors act when given the cloak of anonymity: They praise themselves and trash the competition.

According to reports in the English media, the crime writer R.J. Ellory wrote encomiums to himself on Amazon under pseudonyms, saying, for instance, that R.J. Ellory was “one of the most talented authors of today.” Mr. Ellory, who confirmed his Amazon writings in a statement over the weekend, continued his online self-praise this way: “His ability to craft the English language is breath-taking. You find yourself experiencing so many emotions as you read this book and when you come to the end you don’t want it to stop.” Under a second pseudonym, he said the same book was “a modern masterpiece” that “will touch your soul.” But if Mr. Ellory gave himself five stars, other writers got only one.

The most interesting thing here is that Mr. Ellory is successful; he has won a number of awards for his crime tales. They are issued by the mainstream house Orion, and they have sold well. But that apparently wasn’t enough.

The sorry tale was first pieced together by another crime writer, Jeremy Duns, who outlined his accusations on Twitter. “Praising yourself is pathetic,” Mr. Duns wrote.

Amazon does not seem to have commented on this latest blow to the credibility of its reviews, but it did take the offending pieces down. In his statement, Mr. Ellory said, “I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment.”

Who is R.J. Ellory? According to his Wikipedia page, he was born in 1965, has published 10 novels in the last decade and is the smartest thing since Wittgenstein: After flunking out of college, it says, Mr. Ellory “then pursued an intense study of philosophy, religion, psychoanalytic techniques, psychology, drug rehabilitation techniques and associated physiological and mental therapies,
including the works of Socrates, Plato, Kant, Adler, Schopenhauer, Freud, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Gibran, Descartes, Dewey and Hubbard.”

“Citation needed,” Wikipedia adds sternly in a footnote.

In a post on his blog last year, Mr. Ellory approvingly quoted yet another heavyweight, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is something which you can do better than another.”

Was he trying to tell us something, like the murderer with a guilty conscience in so many crime novels? After all, who can praise you better than you? In his blog, Mr. Ellory also noted this: “The vast majority of people who buy and read books don’t post reviews on Amazon. Hence, the reviews you wind up with – though very positive in the main – are not wholly representative of the overall opinion.”

You don’t say.

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