Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thank You?

By Mike Knowles

I think Roger Ebert figured it out a while ago. A simple thumbs up or thumbs down. With Ebert, I never had any doubt about what his opinion was. He either liked it or hated it. And in those instances where his socks were really blown off, it was common to hear thumbs way up. I can even get behind the movie reviewers on Yahoo who use letter grades (that may be because I’m a teacher, but it’s also because everyone understands A+).

A recent review of Grinder got me thinking about reviews. The review is from the Globe and Mail.

This is the second outing for Knowles – the first was Darwin's Nightmare – and his antihero, Wilson, is back, gone from his haunts in Hamilton and safely in hiding in B.C. He promised his old boss to get off the grid, and he has kept that promise. But then a man comes hunting for him – a man with a gun and a woman in the trunk of his car.

Knowles is working hard to take Wilson into the world of characters like Lee Child's Jack Reacher. He hasn't made it there yet, but there's hope. He's a good atmospheric writer and he has the lingo down, but it takes more than 178 pages to get into the kind of tough guy he's building. Book three may be the breakout.

When I saw this, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think it’s positive, I don’t specifically see a negative. There is a mention of Jack Reacher which is cool–I like him and so do others (a bazillion copies sold can’t be wrong). And the reviewer says I have the lingo down–another plus. But then there are the last two sentences. I’m not sure what to make of those.

When I see a review like this, I wonder what the purpose is. Is the review a critique on my work, or a guide to prospective consumers. I think it is the former in this case, but it should be both. I read this review a bunch of times and tried to figure out the recommendation. If it will take more than 178 pages to get into the "tough guy" I’m building, should people start reading now? Should they wait for book three (which is done and awesome by the way)?

What if I reviewed my wife’s cooking this way?

This is the fourth meal of the week–penne with meatballs–and the wife is back with another salute to the cuisine of Italy. The meatballs are back from the freezer and Mrs. Knowles teams them up with the pasta from the box that was not quite finished last week.

The wife is working hard to take penne and meatballs into the world of chefs like Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich. She hasn’t made it there yet, but there’s hope. She makes good sauce and can make the pasta al dente, but it takes more than a single serving of pasta to get into the kind of meal she’s building. Sunday’s lasagna may be the breakout.

So, who wants to eat at my house on Sunday? It could be the breakout.

I just hate being confused, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. If I was reading this review about someone else’s book, I wouldn’t know what to make of it. Maybe the reviewer didn’t know what to make of Grinder, but if that was the case he should of just said so instead of leaving the reader to inference it.

I think movie reviewers have it right. And in that spirit, I’m giving Grinder thumbs up and an A+ (it’s my blog and I can do what I want).


pattinase (abbott) said...

In trying to review movies for Crimespree Cinema, I found out it is harder than it looks. Tell enough of the plot to interest the viewer. Give a reason or two why you did or did not like it. This reviewer didn't exactly do that. I think the review is too short as many of crime fiction books seem to be. It is a pretty positive review but the reviewer is hedging a bit. Also why I like Ebert.
Your review of your wife's pasta is hilarious and yes, I want to try it.

John McFetridge said...

I just like to picture Margaret Cannon reading your books, Mike. I wonder if she goes from the one about the dog-walker solving mysteries straight to Wilson?

And wasn't he on the east coast, working on a lobster boat, unless he drove back from BC in two days, but that would be another book entirely, wouldn't it?

I like the move away from penne to the lasagna, always a risk, like a series author going stand-alone, but it could work, it could be the breakout, for sure.

Mike Knowles said...


You're right that the locales in the review were not in the book. But hold on, there are dog walker mysteries. Here I've been just getting exercise with my dog, who knew I could be solving crimes too. Look out world. Mike and Sam to the rescue.

Jay Stringer said...

I hope the culinary adventures of the Knowles family become a regular feature, that was awsome.

As for the book review, i see your point totally. It reads in a number of different ways, it reads as a much longer and involved analysis thats been stripped back too much. It also reads -not that i've EVER done this while wearing my reviewers gloves- as someone who read the blurb, plus a couple chapters and then tried to build a constructive review from there.

I could be wrong.

Ray Banks said...

It's positive, and it's major press. It also shows a slight ignorance for your particular sub-genre - of course people can deliver genuine tough guys in less than 200 pages - but gives a reason for it, too (they're a Lee Child fan, a man whose protagonist will gladly spend 10 pages describing his coffee). Anyone reading that will put two and two together, so I wouldn't worry about it.

I suppose what I'm really trying to say is congratulations!

Dana King said...

Sounds like damning with faint praise. He wants to say nice things about it, but can't quite pull it off, and the end product is so tepid it's hard to tell for sure what to make of it. I like your interpretation.