Read the Movie

Duane Swierczynski's SEVERANCE PACKAGE reads
like a novelization of a screenplay based on a video game. A group of people are called into the office on a Saturday…and then told by their boss that the company they work for is shutting down, that they are locked in the building (which is boobytrapped with sarin gas, bombs, etc), and that they are all going to be executed…unless they choose to drink a poison cocktail instead.

It's a high
concept idea that ultimately has no substance beyond that. It never
really pays off in terms of character or plot…instead, what we get is
one violent fight sequence after another which would play
much better on screen than it does on the page. On paper, it's monotonous rather than thrilling.
All the fights tend to blend into one another after a while, even though
Duane keeps dialing up the gore in an effort to keep our attention. Overall, the book reads like a
martial arts/espionage twist on the familiar FRIDAY THE 13th/HALLOWEEN
slasher movie formula…with a bunch of victims up against an
unstoppable, almost superhuman, killer.

It's obvious that that Duane
is a wonderfully imaginative, highly skilled writer…but, in my
opinion, he's skating on flash here…he's taking the easy way and not
using his considerable talent to its full potential. He could be
writing great books…noir classics…but instead he's going for
gimmicks, in-jokes, and fights. It's as if in every scene he's trying
to impress his friends ("hey, look at this guys,
it's gonna be cool!") instead of trying to create interesting, believable characters and tell a
compelling story. It's a shame that he's devoting his efforts to superficial splatter-fests when he's clearly capable of writing
something with real substance and staying power.

SEVERANCE PACKAGE would have worked much
better as a comicbook…which it, essentially, is (the cover and the
artwork that's interspersed throughout the book make that comparison
inevitable) or a screenplay, which it probably will become (if it hasn't already). And yet, as hip and edgy as the book wants to be, there's
actually a really dated feel to it all…like you're reading the novelization of the fifth
sequel to BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER. Haven't we seen the super sexy, invincible, gun-toting martial arts babe a thousand times now?

As I said when he wrote the far superior THE WHEELMAN…he's got a great book in him, but this isn't it. SEVERANCE PACKAGE reflects all the weaknesses of THE WHEELMAN and few
of its many strengths.

45 thoughts on “Read the Movie”

  1. Your critique is 100% right on. In my notes I wrote, “This is not a thriller — it’s a comic book without drawings.”
    Although there’s a limited entertaining velocity to the story — I did finish it, which is more than I can say for many books — it is deeply flawed on many levels.
    A real disappointment for me.

  2. A maxim that has guided storytellers and novelists from ancient times is this: Character is Fate. A novel peopled with names but not real characters, struggling with dilemmas that do not rise from their conduct, is neither a novel nor even a story of any substance.

  3. While I haven’t read Severance Package yet and even though I’ve enjoyed Duane Swierczinski’s other books, I appreciate the bluntness of your commentary. All too often – and especially when it comes to the crime fiction community – we see timorous critics who are afraid to infuriate their colleagues or some publisher by publishing a negative review. Their typical excuse is that they would rather focus on a good book than dedicate time and limited print space to a bad novel.
    I only have one minor quibble with your commentary: Reading it you get the impression that since you consider Severance Package such a poor novel, the story should be confined to an inferior art form like comic books. I don’t think that’s how you feel about comics (and if that’s the case, you should try Ed Brubaker’s Criminal or Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets) but that’s what I got out of reading it.
    In any event, I had a great time reading The Wheelman and The Blonde. I don’t think Severance Package is going to disappoint me either but it’ll be interesting to see how much I agree with you after I read it.

  4. You misunderstood me, Gonzalo. I don’t think comicbooks are an inferior art form. Every medium for telling stories — whether it’s books, TV shows, stage plays, radio, games, comic books — have their own ways/rules/conventions of storytelling. SEVERANCE PACKAGE’s characters and plot would fit right into the comicbook medium’s conventions. That isn’t a slight — it’s an observation.

  5. Jeez, Lee, keep it in your pants, will ya? It’s one thing to dump on a book in your own blog. I do it myself at times. But to also leave comments on all the other blogs (alright, only two I’ve seen so far) makes me wonder about your motives. And you’re not even leaving comments, so much as cutting and pasting your own blog post. What’s with the campaign against Severance?

  6. Ed,
    The comment on Bill Crider’s blog came first. After I left the comment, I realized I’d basically left the review I’d been thinking about posting here…so I rewrote what I said there and posted it here.
    The comment on Duane’s blog was in response to the remark from someone that I loathed his book. I don’t. And I didn’t want to see my views miss-interpreted and spread. I think Duane is a great writer…and I admire his skills…and I didn’t want that to get lost because someone miss-characterizes my review of this book. (I have already seen that happen with people taking comments from other people left on my fanfic posts and attributing them to me).

  7. Duane is a very nice guy who is friends with most of the right people in the crime genre. He’s also generous with blurbs, praise on his blog, etc. As a result, he tends to get breaks from other authors that his work doesn’t always deserve. I’m afraid his latest book is an example of that. But he’s got talent so I’ll keep reading him. I just hope he tries a little harder next time.

  8. “The comment on Duane’s blog was in response to the remark from someone that I loathed his book.”
    Actually, I said: “If it’s any consolation, I never feel comfortable unless at least one reviewer absolutely loathes my books.” I was talking about my own experiences.
    If it helps, I was impressed that you balanced your post with the comments about the quality of Duane’s writing. It’s nice to see a negative review that doesn’t descend to the level of a personal hatchet job.

  9. Lee, you are exactly right and I applaud you for speaking out.
    Duane, like so many other mystery writers with interactive web sites have become friends with so many, that they can no longer receive honest feedback.
    In fact, I am hiding my identity here because I know Duane, we see each other several times a year, but unfortunately, I know if I told him the truth, he would be more offended than appreciative. Like so many authors within the genre.
    Duane does have a great book in him. But I think success is ruining him. Each book has been not quite as good as the last. He loves comic books, is having great success writing comic books, but unless he pushes himself, he will soon be writing only comic books.
    I know those type of stories are inherently easier to write than a novel with more going on below the surface of movie-like action scenes. SP was nothing more than one of his comic books spread into novel length, but I hope he tries one day.Because I think he would find even more success and validation than he’s getting with these “action” stories, for lack of a better term.
    Again, I applaud you for being one of the few (if only) authors who is willing to risk attack by telling the truth and speaking your opinion with confidence.

  10. Duane has friends in the biz and is getting good reviews based on his networking? I’m shocked! SHOCKED!
    That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing on the internet or in the mystery writing community.
    You should be ashamed of yourself, Duane, you friendly devil.
    Now get back to work on that great book we all know you have in you but you just don’t want to give us….
    Terrill Lankford

  11. I’m amused and bewildered by the anonymous comments here and on other blogs discussing Duane’s work. From everything I’ve heard, Duane’s a nice guy. And his book certainly isn’t the first one that’s garnered positive and negative notices from author/blogger/reviewers. So what are all these anonymous posters afraid of? I’d really like to know.

  12. Lee,
    Duane is a very dangerous man. I made the mistake of taking him for a short trip to Mexico last year.
    I was astounded at the body count we racked up trying to get out of the place. He had me digging holes all night long covering the tracks of his rampage.
    No wonder no one wants to criticize him out in the open.

  13. I can answer for you, Lee. You haven’t been going to the conventions lately, so you aren’t aware of the cliques in the genre these days. Duane is part of a clique that write not so much to entertain readers but to impress one another. You know who they are. They have groupies (Sarah Weinman, Ron Hogan, J. Kingston Pierce, etc) and hangers-on (James Winter, Byron Quartermous, Dave White etc.) who desperately want to be acknowledged and accepted by the in-crowd, which they think is the clique. The authors in the clique fervently want to be acknowledged as the vanguard of the genre and can’t accept that they aren’t. So they acknowledge each other instead, hoping that will make it so. I know because I’ve hung around drinking with them a few times and watched them slap each other on the back and revel in their own smug cleverness. It’s hard to take if you aren’t drunk, too. I remember what happened some years ago when you dared not to jump on the Ken Bruen bandwagon (they idolize him) and more recently when you wouldn’t grant Charles Ardai the favoritism he demanded and they savaged you. We aren’t all as thick-skinned as you are. Maybe we just want to be liked more or maybe we are afraid of being ostracized by the popular crowd (or at least those who think they are the popular crowd). Maybe we don’t want to be shunned at the bar at the next convention because we failed to pay homage. Maybe we don’t want to get trashed on Sarah’s blog and the Rap Sheet and Galleycat when our new book comes out because we failed to pay homage to their buddies. Maybe we don’t want the editors and agents they pal around with to reject our manuscript or spread negative comments around about us because we didn’t pay homage. Maybe you’re safely above it now, or outside of it with TV work and your tie-ins, but the rest of us in the mid-list have to worry about anything that might negatively impact our sales. So, yeah, I didn’t like Duane’s book much, or his ridiculous Batgirl femmebot with her utility belt of gadgets, but I’m not going to say so to anybody.

  14. I Am a Coward brings up the same point I was thinking of, when Goldberg said he didn’t like Ken Bruen. The Clique still trashes him over that. If you don’t kiss the right ass in this business, you’ll never get the reviews from the Weinmans of the world.
    What people say about you and your work matters and negative word of mouth can harm a person’s career. So there’s no profit in speaking the truth if the wrong people get pissed off. Not that these people are powerful. But it’s a small world. Look at how Konrath has ruined his reputation. (For different reasons.)
    If you’re Lankford or Goldberg and have Hollywood to fall back on and don’t count on publishing to pay the bills, that’s fine. But some people can’t risk it.

  15. Well, I think you guys are all great just for getting your novels into print and mass distribution channels in this day and age.
    Not every book can top all its predecessors.
    They are what they are, and everyone can have their opinion – hopefully without getting shutdown by all the haters in the blogosphere. (Did you know Tess Gerritsen has quit blogging due to the heat she took when she dared express her personal opinion?)

  16. Anonymous,
    I never said I didn’t like Ken Bruen — I just wasn’t wild about THE GUARDS. I’ve read several of Ken’s books since then, though not in the same series, that I’ve liked very much (LAST CALL TO LOUIS MCNIECE was really good). While I did get some surprisingly nasty emails from some of his author/admirers at the time, I know that he didn’t take my remarks about the book personally. I’ve run into Ken many times since then, most recently at the Edgars, and he’s always been very friendly to me. I’m pretty sure Duane will be, too.
    I have good friends who don’t particularly like my books or TV shows — or like some of them and not others — and that hasn’t hurt those friendships one bit. Perhaps because I am in TV, and am used to being “noted to death,” I don’t take negative comments about my writing personally…and often learn from the weaknesses/mistakes that are pointed out to me. Or perhaps my friendships with writers are built on more than the books or scripts that we write.
    My career is as vulnerable as any one else’s to bad word-of-mouth…but I know I have a great reputation among the editors, publishers, licensing executives, and booksellers I have worked with…and I know that there are many readers who enjoy my books. That’s the word-of-mouth that matters to me in the book business…so I’m not concerned about what any particular “clique” of writers thinks of me.

  17. Here’s what I am talking about, Lee. Here’s clique hanger-on Dave White in action, talking about himself and Clique groupie Sarah Weinman, and their assessment of the mystery universe.
    “As Sarah and I talked, we became more and more aware of a certain level of celebrity in the Mystery writer world. Let’s call it reaching the level of “Mystery Writer Awesome.” What that is, specifically, is being a writer that your mystery writer colleagues’ love, but you haven’t broken out, haven’t hit the list. You haven’t become a household name.
    It kind of became a fun game to name names. Duane Swierczynski, my mentor and favorite writer is Mystery Writer Awesome. My agent Al Guthrie is Mystery Writer Awesome. I think Ken Bruen is Mystery Writer Awesome. Jason Pinter is Mystery Writer Awesome. Sarah said… and I quote, “William Kent Krueger is a fan favorite, multiple winner and nominee of Anthony Awards (including this year) but is almost totally unknown outside of the Midwest mystery community.”

  18. I’m kind of bewildered by all of this, too. For the record: It’s totally cool if you don’t like my stuff. You can tell me, or not tell me, or post it on your blog, or whatever. I’m a former journalist, and rather fond of the whole “free speech” thing.
    As for “DSfriend”: Mom, I thought I talked to you about anonymous blog comments!

  19. There’s no doubt that the mystery world is populated by several cliques — and yes, they’re just as silly and annoying as the cliques back in high school (a time when most of the members of mystery cliques were not allowed in cliques of any kind).
    However, I think the commenters above ascribe too much power to such groups. Even if Mystery Clique #1 were to turn against a writer, what could they do? Ignore him? Badmouth him on their blogs? Say mean things behind his back at conferences? Who cares? What effect would any of that have?
    Anyone who has a blog or a website or a column or just a group of dedicated fans would like to believe that we have the power to affect people’s taste. But sadly, I don’t think we do. Under the best of circumstances, we might hold some slight influence. But that’s about it.
    So what difference does it make in your career if some clique decides that you don’t belong? None that I can think of.
    It’s all a bunch of nonsense that’s better left ignored.

  20. I think these anonymous comments from writers about cliques, and this fear of doing or saying anything that might create bad “word of mouth,” actually has more to do with the unease many writers are feeling today…not about what other writers think of them, or being part of an “in-group,” but about whether you can sustain a career in publishing if you don’t “hit it big” after a book or two. They are so afraid of failure that their fear permeates every aspect of their interactions in the publishing world, even those with other writers. I’m not without fears my own, but I’m not going to let them get in the way of me being myself…for better or worse.
    Like Duane, I also come from a journalism background, so I was to used to being heavily edited and having my work criticized long before I became an author and screenwriter. My parents were also reporters, so not being too hung up on what’s said about what we write is sort of ingrained in me. Perhaps that’s why I don’t take negative comments about my work personally and perhaps that makes me insensitive to people who do.

  21. Are you f’n kidding me? Anyone that signs their internet blogging name “I Am A Coward” is really an embarrassment to themselves and needs to do some soul searching. Don’t you feel safe sitting at home on your crappy eMachines laptop, dusting off the Frito crumbs and leisurely typing your scathing remarks?! If you really are part of the crime fiction scene, anonymous posts like this show you are already part of the “game” you ridicule. You are denouncing the “cliques” and groupies”, yet you write like you’re on the outer edge of that success bubble. Oh so desperately trying to claw your way in. If it wasn’t true you would have signed your name. If you are so fed up with the back-slapping and smug cleverness, but sign your name anonymously, then you are already part of the game. You must not want this group to know who you are, so you hide (like billions of others on the web). By doing so, you openly admit to their powerful position in this field and succumb to it in the most pitiful way possible – you type somewhat demeaning blog posts filled with selfish hate (fear?).
    Do you think that your revelation is the only scenario being played out like this in the world?
    How do you think ANY group, organization, or “clique” gains a successful place in this world? The popular party before-hand has their time in the sun, but when they move on to other mediums, get too old, or die out another group grasps power. It’s only going to happen with numbers. Unions, politics, et cetera, are all set up by the back-slapping and camaraderie – yet eventually they are the leaders. Of course they are going to try and “impress one another”. These are the top up-coming writers in the field. If they can impress each other, then they should be able to impress fans who read the genre. Competition takes place in every medium. People in the same band work in harmony to pump out a groove, yet, compete against each other to improvise most killing solo. People on the same baseball team work together to crush the opposition, yet, compete against each other to lead in important stats.
    This group of writers may seem like drunken posers to you, but when they are the Robert Parkers of the field, you’ll still be clawing at that bubble trying to get in. Or you’ll be doing something else because you realized the “game” wasn’t for you. But we’ve already established that you’re already playing, so good luck with that.
    If you aren’t afraid of that game and what these “cliques” can do to you, then just post your name next time. First, if you are so snobbishly not what these others are, then fight against it with your true identity. The end to that scenario is that you’ll develop your own “clique”. People will see things how you do and you’ll be back-slapping each other. Ironic isn’t it? That’s what you’re blogging against!! Secondly, I would think that most of the people that are in this crime fiction scene would be intelligent enough not to ostracize you because of your opinion, but would welcome it as another intelligent view which would, hopefully, bring everyone together through understanding.
    If not – then you are just another of the billions. You have your opinion though. So do pimply-faced, home-schooled, 12 year old kids from West Virginia. So do I.
    Yes, perhaps I am biased and stumbled across this blog because Dave White is my good buddy, but give the guy a break… His second novel hasn’t even come out, yet you are calling him out on not being “a household name”?? I think he is well aware of that. I think we are all well aware of that. But you have written two posts already pertaining to him, haven’t you? At least his name is out there – in the digital world, the printed word, and in your head. Your eyes must be glowing green.
    I teach elementary band and compose music – I am in no way trying to make it as a writer. I don’t pretend I really know much about the crime fiction “game” your posts have been aimed at. What I do know is that when a person attacks other’s successes and tries to tear them down, without leaving an identity, it’s called JEALOUSY!
    Props to everyone that use their real name.

  22. Wow. What a bewildering, frothy, interesting, and menacing series of sociological analysis!! It reflects credit on everybody, I would argue, whether or not they sign their name, not only for their passion but also for the depth of the analysis.
    Cliques are good and bad. They empower the insiders, they demoralize the outsiders. In Canada, from what I’ve seen, those within get the promotions, those without have to find another scene of action. If you’re a loner, you get nowhere within the system although you might find success with your own thing. If the clique decides to attack, they can tear you to pieces and laugh about it. The only way to deal with them, I would argue, is by being polite, courteous, helpful and very tactful while, at the same time, getting a reputation for being truthful. One thing cliques are not is stupid. Generally, they see very clearly where everybody is in the hierarchy.
    As far as reviews go, I think a reviewer must be truthful but not disagreeable. If you don’t like the book, you don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean you dump all over the author. Respect for the effort and talent it takes even to write a bad book should be part of the reviewing process. I like all stories. I accept them as they are written without wanting them to be something else. I admire the structure of all stories even if the content falls outside my interests. Therefore, I can always see a lot of good in every book.
    As far as the “crime fiction scene” goes, I admire those who have such great personalities that they can fit it with a “scene.” That’s great. Good for you. This will help you go further than you could on your own. But if you have this social talent, then you also have the responsiblity to live up to it. If the clique decides to turn on somebody, then, I personally, would stand up to the clique and make friends with the target. Power must be used for creating progress for everybody.
    Anyway, sorry I went on and on. But my goodness, what a great blog and what a lot of great comments!

  23. You’re right, Ryan, I am “on the outer edge of that success bubble,” which is why I am very careful what I say under my name. But unlike you, I don’t think the Clique, and certainly not Dave White, are the next Robert B. Parker or Michael Connelly. I also wouldn’t call them “Mystery Writer Awesome.” Dave’s fawning blow-job of a blog post made me want to vomit.

  24. Your faceless attacking has already made me vomit. God help this technological society. It’s so easy to have a strong and controversial opinions hiding behind a monitor. I fear for when these blogs really begin affecting and dictating real life (think Ender’s Game, Locke and Demosthenes).
    an•o•nym•i•ty [an-uh-nim-i-tee]
    –noun, plural -ties.
    1. The use and perversion of free speech by one without testicles.
    We can agree to disagree on the future of these writers. If Dave’s blog post was a fawning blow-job, then all of your cowardly posts have been fearful snatch lickings.
    Ryan Krewer (real name)

  25. Coward, you actually make a few good points, but they’re overwhelmed by your lack of character.
    Take a stand. Make some enemies. Choose the wrong friends. Write the book you love and take flak for them. Be who you are instead of pretending. You may not make as much money, but you won’t die undefined.

  26. Mr. Krewer is right. Anonymous comment ought to be dismissed as mere vaporing. Anyone who does not own up to his own comment has nothing worthwhile to say to the rest of us. I followed a blog called 2Blowhards awhile, gradually discovering that almost all the comment was anonymous or pseudononymous, including that of some of its operators, and there was an undercurrent of racial and ethnic hostility parading among all those bravos who took their potshots from behind their electronic veils. When i suggested on that blog that people sign their real names, I was amazed at the excuses they offered.

  27. I think too much is made of people making anonymous comments on the internet. There is no law against it. Within the confines of this blog, allows it, so it isn’t unethical.
    Anonymous comments against people in power (real or perceived) have a long history in the world. From writing on the wall, to pamphlets, to the internet, people have used anonymity frequently to protect themselves (again, whether the the need for it is real or imagined).
    To define anonymity as “the use and perversion of free speech” ignores a great deal of human history.

  28. “ allows it, so it isn’t unethical.”
    That may be the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. When did TypePad become the authority on ethics? Just because typepad allows something doesn’t make it ethical, moral, or in good taste. You should see some of the blogs they host…

  29. Now, Mr. Goldberg…you cut and pasted that quote and completely changed it’s meaning.
    The quote is “WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THIS BLOG, allows it…” [caps lock mine]
    It isn’t unethical to poste anonymously on this blog, because it is not against the rules of Nothing was said regarding morality or good taste.

  30. Just because something is okay by Typepad *still* doesn’t make it “ethical.” What makes you think Typepad’s rules have anything to do with ethics? Typepad is a BUSINESS. Their rules are crafted to suit whatever profits them and their BUSINESS. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ethics.

  31. A word to all anonymous commentators, from one of my favorite presidents, Harry Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

  32. I’m still working on thickening my own skin, so I understand taking a negative review personally. However, I also appreciate reading honest, respectful critiques, so I have no problem with Mr. Goldberg’s opinion. I just happen to disagree. I really dug Severance Package. With an ocean of bloated books out there, Duane’s are a breath of fresh air. They are full of wit and subtlety and action. SP was a whole lot of fun and I look forward to Duane’s next one.
    As to the comments about the ominous “Clique”…
    I’ve never met Duane, Dave, or Bryon face to face, and I’ve met Sarah only briefly. But online, I found them nothing but gracious, generous, and helpful. In one way or the other, they’ve all contributed to the genre.

  33. I haven’t read Duane’s novel, but I strongly agree with Mr. Wheeler’s comment. Not to change the subject here, but why oh why do most agents seem to want only “high concept” novels today?

  34. O boy, flame wars. Everyone loves those.
    What a horrible way to be introduced to this blog.
    Duane didn’t know me from Adam but he plugged my blog ’cause he liked it. He’s nice like that. Generous, down-to-earth. I wanted to like _Severance_ more than I did, but that said, I will buy everything D.S. ever writes from now on because if I like a writer (and I mean Personally like a writer), I’m supporting him (or her), and with $$$. It’s an expression of faith and hope. I want good guys to win. If you want to foster good writing, then all you really need to do is cough up your Honest (civil, decent) opinion and your cold hard cash. Save your whining about writer cliques and internet trolls for your mama.

  35. Frankly, Rex, I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction to my review either, though I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize it as a “flame war.” I have seen a lot, lot worse here and on other blogs.
    I buy books by authors whose work I enjoy reading or who I’ve never read before. I rarely buy books simply because I like the writer as a person.
    In the case of SEVERANCE PACKAGE, I bought the book because I genuinely admire Duane’s writing and inventiveness. There was a lot to like about THE WHEELMAN and, because of that, I eagerly anticipated his new work. I will probably buy his next book, too.
    (I bought THE BLONDE, too, I just never got around to reading it)

  36. I’m one of the guys who “trashed” Lee Goldberg back when he publicly pissed on The Guards a few years ago. Back then I wondered why a writer would knock a book publicly (rather than share his thoughts with the writer personally–I’ll get back to that in a moment). I understand the free speech angle; the right to go public with a denunciation, but something tells me it would be harder to do one-on-one (to the writer him or herself). For my money it’s a tough enough game for any writer to survive without the extra doses of bullshit (whether they be from cliques, popularity contests, real or fugazy awards … or established associations and their real or fugazy awards). In the end, it’ll be sales numbers that count and I doubt anything within the parenthesis above will make or break a career over the long haul.
    That said, none of us should ever feel compelled to not go against any popular grain … if any one of us sets themselves up as a book reviewer (for newspapers, crime fiction blogging sites, etc. {as opposed to personal ones–unless you do it regularly}), the rest of us are required to live with the negative reviews, as they are simply part of the game.
    I exited what I once called the mutual circle jerk (or whatever I had called it) a few years back, because after one Bouchercon, I’d had enough. Between guys reaching for wallets they couldn’t find when it came time to anti-up for drinks, the politics, cliques, the frat night atmosphere (something I had lived through in the form of football camaraderie 30+ years ago in college as a confirmed GDI), the you blurb/vote for me and I’ll blurb/vote for you, etc., … I found it a lot less honorable than the dishonest life I had spent most of my adult life pursuing. When I finally realized one personal dream (getting published), I wanted it to go forward as legit as my prior life wasn’t. That said, I started off by being as guilty as the next (or every other) new sucker to the game, but fortunately (for myself), I regrouped fairly early on (by book 3) and jumped off the creampuff carousel.
    I stopped writing fugazy reviews/blurbs, but had I been guilty of overhyping something for guys I had met early on? You bet … and it bothered me enough to stop the practice. Was I guilty of voting for guys I knew? Yep … and it’s why I dissociated myself with all things “clique” (for lack of a better word). I left the MWA and the other Thriller thing. I no longer go to conventions, etc., but all of the above has been a personal choice. I prefer spending the little free time (and money) I have with my wife and I had always believed (and still do) that when all the smoke clears (and the smoke comes in all forms) the cream (as in talent) will rise to the top (and obviously, the cream already there, will stay there).
    That may or may not be naïve, depending on what you’re looking for as a writer. Obviously, it isn’t restricted to book sale numbers or colleges would teach Danielle Steel rather than Fyodor Dostoevsky and/or John Updike.
    And yes, I’m a Dostoevsky/Updike sycophant.
    If I “trashed” Lee Goldberg back then it was because I didn’t get the point of the public knock. I still don’t … but mostly because I didn’t get then (and still don’t get now) who Lee Goldberg was/is to suggest someone else write up to what he believes might have “real substance and staying power”. Does he mean like Crime and Punishment or something like Diagnosis Murder Series and/or Mr. Monk Goes To Germany?
    I haven’t read any of Lee Goldberg’s books, but that has more to do with personal tastes and the type of reader his work seems to appeal to (I prefer reading darker material, whether they be in the form of verismo opera, drama, fiction/comedy). Lee Goldberg appears to be financially successful at what he does. God bless him. My argument back then had to do with the level of critical acclaim Ken Bruen had received across the board (not just from bloggers, sycophants and/or bullshit blurbs). The industry reviews (the 3 starred reviews The Guards had garnered–which has only been surpassed, since I’m paying attention, by James Sallis’ 4 starred reviews for Cripple Creek (or was it Drive?)), etc. Bruen’s style was something very new (to me). His Jack Taylor character had an interesting flaw I’d never seen (or read) before (the closeness to his father/distance from his mother) as well as a literary background I could learn from (as in I sought out and read some of what Taylor had read). There have been a lot of stylistic copycats since. Some do a good enough job at it; others fail miserably, but the fact there are copycats suggests Ken hit on something special.
    I don’t get the point in publicly knocking writers for various reasons, but (as stated above) mostly because it’s a tough enough business without the extra doses of bullshit. I guess what I found offensive in Lee Goldberg’s knock on The Guards wasn’t his audacity to invoke his right of free speech, but who the hell was he to knock Bruen’s work (i.e., the glass house effect). Apparently Lee Goldberg has as many sycophants as does the clique Duane (I have no intention of trying to spell his last name) has been accused of belonging to, so I may well be wrong to suggest Lee Goldberg shouldn’t go public with negative reviews. In the end, back then I was defending a friend’s work (not just the friend). Lee Goldberg has every right in the world to spew negative reviews. Unless he’s a book reviewer (as in he reviews book on a regular basis), I don’t understand why he does it.
    On the flip side, and this is perhaps more important, the writing world would be a much less diluted (and better place) if the were a lot less blow job reviews/blurbs/awards, but how one sorts those out (the genuine from fugazy) is a much tougher problem to resolve. A couple of months ago, I nearly engaged this virtual world (I swore off a few years back) after reading my own quote (the circle jerk thing) and how Andrew Vachss seemed to agree (in his own way and much more forcefully). Some “blogger” who wasn’t picked by him as one of the greatest crime writers in the history of crime writing had been offended enough to trash one of his books (and since the same thing had happened to me, minus the book trashing–it was just profound discontent aimed at me), I found it pretty interesting. The bigger theme had to do with one writer not ass kissing a book that was widely supported by the blogosphere crowd. I wrote the writer personally and lent my support because it was part of a book reviewing process for a website. If Lee Goldberg does that on a regular basis, while I don’t agree with it, I support his right to do so (and apologize forthwith).
    About writing the writer personally. As it turns out, I had written Duane (the troublemaker in all this, eh?) after first reading The Wheel Man. I thought the first chapter (the bank robbery scene) was one of the best hooks I’d ever read; something having the credibility factor (George V. Higgins-like) I most often require when reading anything crime related. I also wrote Duane (in the same e-mail) that I felt somewhat let down (I don’t remember the exact words I used) when the thing turned more comic than real (especially the body count). I hope I told him that “it” (my opinion) was my two cents and probably worth a lot less … In any event, Duane was decent enough to either accept or ignore my comments with grace. I assume so because he didn’t tell me to fuck off. I chose not to go public with what I felt about The Wheel Man because I just didn’t (still don’t) see the point in sharing what I believe should be notes to a fellow author rather than a public disavowal.
    The point being, it was a tough email for me to write (preface about my 2 cents being worthless and “I’m just one reader” aside), but I had thought that’s what writers would prefer to hear from other writers rather than a public knock. However, if Lee Goldberg is a book reviewer, then that is a different can of worms and I’m wrong to have issues with his negative commentary; one has to hope that book reviewers are doing the right thing and being honest. If the man is a book reviewer and didn’t like the book, Duane (and his “clique”) have to live with it. If he’s not a book reviewer, I continue to question why he went public. Does the public (or blogging public?) really crave his opinion so much he feels compelled to share? If so, more power to him/them; he’s well within his right to post a negative review.
    Second Duane point: When I read Duane’s The Blonde I knew early on it was a spoof and I had no trouble going along with it. In fact, I liked it so much I bought copies from Joe & Bonnie (Black Orchid) for my brats (all three of whom seemed to enjoy it as well–one I think wrote Duane he liked it so much). I haven’t yet read Severance Package but I will (even though you bastards now spoiled the drama for me), although I understand its more spoof than reality. It’ll be good timing, since I’m reading The 900 Days about the siege of Leningrad after reading The Madonnas of Leningrad (a wonderful, wonderful book–and I’m not one of the author’s sycophants). After those two books, I’ll certainly need something to make me smile again.
    Third Duane point: I read his first one (Secret Dead Men), which was obviously not meant to be the docudrama I prefer, but it was a masterful nostalgic trip (for me). So, I guess Duane was 1-1; then 1-2, and now 2-3 (for this reader). I’ll be reading Severance Package when I get the chance (but definitely behind something much more somber). Whether I like Severance Package or not, none of you will know … unless a) you ask, or b) Duane feels compelled to share.
    I’m going to post this on Bill Crider’s blog, Lee Goldberg’s blog and Duane’s blog, but I’m ducking out after that. If you want a response, please write my personal email but you’ll have to forgive any delayed comebacks. I really do work 7 days a week …
    A note to the anonymous crowd—get over it and grow a pair. You made some valid points. Yes, there are cliques and yes, they have some small level of influence (reviews and/or otherwise), but they are a virtual world unto themselves (for Christ’s fucking sake). If bad writing is being published/well reviewed and/or honored because bloggers/reviewers have influence, don’t kid yourself, the buying/reading public will be able discern the good from the bad over the long haul. All fame (in whatever form it comes and however it comes) is truly fleeting (or some of the published/well reviewed and/or honored wouldn’t have taken such hard falls). More importantly, who cares what (or who) “they” promote (whether in the form of authors, reviews and/or awards)? In the end, it’s always the same number of people paying attention (count them). You (the anonymous) just might find some valuable relief in avoiding offending all the cliques out there. Life is way too short to go through with that (apparently constant) level of apprehension. What the fuck good is “your career” unless it’s yours?
    I’m sure I’ll regret writing this tomorrow, but none of you should get wood (or whatever) over that. Trust me, I fear no blog, reviewer, or man (aren’t I a tough guy?) … but I do hate giving in to my better judgment … and this stuff, all of it (including my 3+ single-spaced pages), in the end, is just another form of farting; a catharsis much better served blown out of the back of my ass.
    It’s what I get for being in between books and having no work in the word processing center today.
    That said, here’s to discourse.

  37. Haven’t read the book, yet – but as a screenwriter, and action scene *is* a character scene… or, should be in a good script. Take the scene in CASINO ROYALE where Bond chases the bombmaker through the construction site. The bombmaker gacefully dives through a window… Bond smashes through the drywall. Again and again in this scene we *see* character demonstrated through actions – Bond is a blunt instrument. He isn’t elegant, he isn’t polite – he’s a freakin’ hammer. And that is how he relates to others, that is his personality as well as his method in action scenes. All action scenes should be there to explore character – and that is the purpose of a story – to explore character. People with problems.
    – Bill

  38. Mr. Stella, Lee Goldberg reviews books here all the time and gives both positive and negative reviews. I thought he was fair and respectful to Duane S. Nobody seems to have noticed all the nice things he said about the author. It seemed to me that Lee’s problems was that he admires Duane S. and thinks the author has the talent to do much better. That’s almost a positive review in my book.

  39. “(I bought THE BLONDE, too, I just never got around to reading it)”
    Okay, that might explain why the plot of this one seemed thin to you. This is a semi-sequel to The Blonde, although apparently it hasn’t been marketed as such. The Philadelphia office is being, er, shut down because it financed the “weapon/tracking device” that drives the action of The Blonde. (Don’t want to spoil it!) CI-6 and all that stuff were introduced in the earlier book as well. Even though most of this book takes place over 2-3 hours in a single building, I thought it did a remarkable job of depicting a post-9/11 world where such a thing as CI-6 could exist, and the sorts of people who would be sucked into its orbit.
    I really thought there was more to it than just hand-to-hand combat and “Hey, lookit me!” In particular, the twisted love story at the heart of it is giving me actual chills just thinking about it. In fact, out of all the gruesome deaths and twists and betrayals, the one that made me put the book down and go “Whoa” was [SPOILER] inside Molly/Ania’s absolutely crazy head, when suddenly you realize why she’s being so gentle (relatively speaking!) with Jamie. It was completely unexpected, and yet it made sense.
    If it was just faceless drones being butchered, videogame sprites getting Niko Bellic’d, I wouldn’t have cared about any of them. But I did.


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