Reviews- Construction and Criticism


My name is Larry Gandle. I want to thank Sarah for giving me the opportunity to speak my mind. I guess that is what blogging is all about. It is like a therapy session where I get to talk and you get to listen, giving you, the clinician, some insight into my psychological makeup. Well, let’s get going and perhaps you can discover some of my pathology.

Anyway, I am a reviewer of mystery fiction. That is the reason I am writing to you today. My reviews can be found in Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine and the Tampa Tribune. I also submit reviews to Amazon and DorothyL. I want to discuss with you my philosophy of reviewing.

First, the structure of one of my reviews is relatively straightforward. The first paragraph will be a VERY brief synopsis of the plot of the novel. I stress the word ‘very’ because it is my contention that an author might have spent many months developing a plot. A reviewer can divulge the whole thing in ten seconds, if he/she is not careful. Frequently too much is given away by careless reviewers as they center their reviews on long plot synopsis as opposed to comments on the quality of the work they are assessing. I try to give a sense of the type of book it is in as little as three or four sentences- if possible. Is it a PI novel? An amateur detective? A police procedural? A psychological suspense novel? and so on.

Next, I try to break down the book as to the plot (riveting or dull), the characters (realistic vs. cardboard), the pacing (swift or slow), the quality of the writing (skilled or amateurish) and whether to recommend or not. Occasionally other measures are judged such as the description of the locale and setting. The last sentence should give a relative summary of whether the book is a thumbs up or thumbs down. This is very possibly the only sentence I read when I read a review.
But often I read a review and can’t tell whether the reviewer liked the book or not. He/she summarizes the plot and may hint at some obscure positive or negative aspect but never seem to commit themselves. For example, Marilyn Stasio’s reviews are almost cryptic to me. When you read one of my reviews, you know where I stand on that particular book.

How do I select what books I review? We get so many there is simply not enough time to read them all. I try to read authors that I either know or expect to enjoy, especially if they are considered important writers in the genre. These would include Michael Connolly, Tom Cook, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, George Pelecanos and Ian Rankin, among many others. I also read books sent to me by authors I know personally and whose work I know and respect. Last, any books that looks interesting and unusual would be considered. I write a column on debut novels so these frequently get precedence over the others. I also write yearly takes on the Edgar Award nominations and the CWA Dagger Awards. And speaking of awards, I am a judge on the Barry Award committee and have been a judge for the Thriller Award committee.

Authors — to get your book reviewed, either contact the reviewer or preferably go to Bouchercon– the world mystery conference. Make yourself known to as many people as possible and be nice to everyone you meet. Every person is a potential fan but only if they read your book.

Writers tend to make reviewers feel important. I realized this from the first time I attended a Bouchercon. Personally, I don’t think I can sell many of an author’s work with a positive review. I don’t consider myself an important reviewer in the genre. The movers and shakers in the mystery field would be the aforementioned Marilyn Stasio along with Oline Cogdill, Dick Adler, David Montgomery and perhaps the up-and-comer Sarah Weinman. I wonder how important reviews are to writers. Please let me know.