Why would a best-selling author fake Amazon reviews?

Award-winning British crime writer RJ Ellory admits not only to making up reviews of his own books but also to writing negative reviews of others' works.

The author's own Facebook page. It seems he has many talents. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When you've sold millions of books and won awards for your writing, the pressure is off.

You can saunter from one party to another. You can perform readings to packed auditoriums. You can, just occasionally, wander into bookstores (if you can find one) and simply enjoy yourself while counting the number of times you see your name on the shelves.

Then you come home, pour yourself a substantial snifter, log on to Amazon and write a gushing review of one of your own works. Just as a nightcap, you add a scathing anonymous review of one of your rivals'.

That, in my fanciful imagination, is what best-selling British crime writer RJ Ellory seems to have admitted to doing.

The way the Telegraph writes it, Ellory's actions didn't reflect the title of his own latest work, "A Simple Act of Violence."

No, he perpetrated quite a few acts of literary violence over a 10-year period.

He was exposed initially on Twitter by Swedish author Jeremy Duns, who seems to have made it a personal crusade to out Ellory's heinousness. Duns claimed he had been alerted by a fellow author and, well, did some detective work.

Ellory finally came clean. He wrote on Facebook: "Over the last 10 years I have posted approximately 12 reviews of my own books, and I also criticized a book written by Stuart MacBride, and another by Mark Billingham, both of whom had done nothing to warrant such criticism."

Some -- including many of Britain's most famous authors, who have penned an original letter to the Telegraph -- will wish to throw the book at Ellory. This is understandable. What he did was reprehensible, as well as weak and sad.

One can only imagine the emotional state he might have been in, as he wrote of his own "Quiet Belief in Angels": "One of the most moving books I've ever read."

Perhaps it even was. Perhaps as he was writing the book, tears flowed down his face like sweat drops in a New York summer.

However, doesn't everyone gaze at Amazon's reviews with a certain skepticism about who writes them?

Not many days ago, the New York Times offered a delightful expose about Todd Rutherford, a man who wrote glorious book reviews -- and charged for them.

Yes, for a mere $999, you could get 50 pieces of silver praise online.

Are we truly so naive that we stare at the reviews on Amazon, parse their nuances, and then decide what book to buy?

Perhaps many do. Perhaps it is similar to the restaurant business, where -- according to research done by Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magruder of Berkeley and published in the Economic Journal -- half a star rating more on Yelp can make or break a restaurant.

But with crime writers, you read them and either like their work or not. After that, surely reviews matter little. Ellory is no Andrea Camilleri. He is no Michael Dibdin. He is certainly no Gianrico Carofiglio.

Well, that's just my review.

But though he has been exposed by his fellow writers as something of a cad, perhaps his sweetly catty behavior is simply unsurprising.

Everyone wants to be loved just a little more than they are. Do his actions make his own books better or his rivals' books worse? Neither, I suspect.

It's just that now he will be looked upon by many with a more critical eye.

The very saddest part is surely that he made little effort to make himself truly anonymous on Amazon. As the Daily Mail reports, one review was signed "Roger" -- his real first name.

Another reportedly offered: "email me through my website www.rjellory.com... it comes direct to me."

In this case, we have need of a very clever police psychologist -- yes, like Cracker. Or perhaps we merely need that very nice lady with whom Tony Soprano used to share his intimate thoughts.

 

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