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  • Writer's pictureJohn Clarkson

What I Think About Readers' Reviews

Why?  Because I have no control over what a reader might say.  Whether I live or die, so to speak, is out of my control. But you ask – “Wait a minute, what about all those reviews you ask friends and family to write?”  

First of all, I don’t promote reviews from family and friends.  If someone offers, I’ll say, sure, go ahead.  But that doesn’t mean I can predict what they will do.  Yes, if a friend or family member asks, I assume it’ll be a positive review, but guess what – that’s not always the case.   I think they figure they should be extra-scrupulous and take it down a notch to prove they aren’t biased.  You just never know.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m eternally grateful when someone takes the time to write a review and rate my novels.  I’m often floored at how much effort people put in, composing long, well-considered reviews.  Others write short, to-the-point comments.  I appreciate both, and everything in between. 

Here are two examples: one long, one short.

The first is an Amazon review from Brooks McMullin about my latest novel, BRONX REQUIEM. This has got to be one of the most thoughtful reviews I’ve ever received. Ever. Including editorial reviews from professionals.  Full disclosure, I know Brooks.  He’s a writer, a college professor, and I consider myself very fortunate to get his insights here. 

“To me, the skill in writing crime fiction, first of all involves making the action and characters not only seem plausible but true through rendering the scenes expertly. This is a world, I am not familiar with, gratefully; so seeing it created in print naturally places a critical eye on the page. But there’s no need. Put away the bulls*** detector.

Clarkson’s handling of dialogue, and conflicts, sometimes nuanced, sometimes blow-by-blow punch-outs with their realistic painful consequences, are all handled deftly. The characters are easy to understand but not easy to read. What will happen next in the chapters is only a guess. The book takes you along, leads you, convinces you to go along, convinces you of the rightness of its intention. The characters are driven to right wrongs, to break the law to mete out a street justice, which appears fairer than anything a criminal court could render dealing with the poverty-plagued Bronx underworld of gangs and prostitution, where prison appears the great sweeping solution.

Clarkson’s main character, James Beck, is a reluctant criminal with a mastermind’s skill for getting out of jams. Beck has help, of course, and a lot of it, but everyone waits on his word, his plan. More importantly though in Clarkson’s handling of the crime narrative is that for all the cerebral skills he offers Beck, which result in his tainted success, his beating of the overwhelming odds and coming out okay, is that Beck is not the one in control. Clarkson is.

Without giving too much away near the end of this novel, Beck appears for a short time to come out, morally unscathed. But that is not how it turns out. Clarkson has the final say and by doing so shows the power over his own narrative. Beck is an avenging angel doing the devil’s work. He cannot do his good work trying to indirectly clean up a world of prostitution and drugs and come out clean himself. The innocence and injustice, which have marked his stay in prison, appear something he can no longer use to chart his familiar course on his own moral compass.

It will be very interesting to see what comes next for Mr. Beck.”

Second example

an Amazon review for the first book in my James Beck series, Among Thieves, from my brother. ​​​​​​​

"I want a bar like James Beck!" 

Nice job, bro.  I’m not being snide.  It’s just one line, but it’s fun.  I like it.  There is a bit of irony in that prior to writing that one line my brother wrote me a long, thoughtful email about the novel, talking about moral values, the essential nature of James Beck, and so on.

But I do believe at the moment he wrote his Amazon review, that’s what hit him.  Honestly.  

Bottom line, even though it’s a little difficult facing the unpredictable when it comes to reviews, I treasure and appreciate every single one – the long and the short, the positive and even the most of the negatives (thankfully there have been very few).  I’m grateful that readers take the time and make the effort.  And I’m also grateful that you took the time to read this.

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