My good mate and fellow reviewer on Crimesquad.com asked me to write a piece on reviewing. I am not sure that would be very interesting to you who are now reading Graham’s blog (plus it would make this a very short piece, indeed!). So, I will begin at the beginning as the great chroniclers say – don’t worry I won’t be making ‘War and Peace’ look like a pamphlet! I’ll tell you how Crimesquad.com started to germinate in my head.
I have always been a staunch fan of crime fiction. People say it is the poor relation with regards to general fiction, but crime fiction has matured over the decades and the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years with better writing and more focus on the characters populating the story rather than using them as chess pieces in a puzzle as happened in the Golden Age of crime fiction. It was Nana Simmons who got me in to crime (not literally, although she did have a very colourful life). In the early eighties there wasn’t a sub-genre called ‘Young Adult fiction’ and when you’d done Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys then you were a bit strapped for books. But Nana Simmons handed me an Agatha Christie who she herself loved. It was called ‘Sad Cypress’ and it was a revelation to me. I got the crime fiction bug and I have been happily afflicted with it ever since.
Fast forward thirty years and a room full of crime novels. Despite finding many like minded individuals over the years it was always fun to try and find the latest talent. In recent years the tabloids that had once reviewed a large number of crime fiction novels had now dwindled to a paltry number. Was this a direct effect of the Internet? I have heard many differing reasons from readers, authors and journalists – far too many to go in to here.
I have always enjoyed fresh talent and although we all have our favourite author whose latest book we covet when it is released (my family know not to even bother conversing with me when the new Ruth Rendell is in my hands until the final page has been turned) there wasn’t much in the way of publicity for new authors. It appears that you have to earn your spurs before being given a nice marketing budget for your title, except in very rare cases.
So out of my frustration I started to put together Crimesquad.com. It simply started as a conversation, the ‘What If?’ scenario. If I had a crime review website what would I want to put on it if I had the choice? Automatically I came up with ‘Fresh Blood’ which is THE most heavily contested page with publishers. It has gained such respect from publishers and new authors alike that it is something I am particularly proud of. ‘Author of the Month’ was a given as everyone likes to read about their favourite authors, myself included. And of course, ‘Classic Crime’ as I love the classics and those forgotten authors who paved the way for today’s crime writers should be given their own fanfare.
Crimesquad.com went ‘live’ on the 1st March 2005 and has gained respect over those years. In fact, I didn’t realise it was going to be such a success and would open so many doors for me (becoming a judge for the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger has been a great privilege and a direct effect of our ‘Fresh Blood’ page). As the years have gone by I have been blessed with great reviewers who are as passionate as I am about the genre and my team have kept to my initial mantra. If you love a book, review it. If you hate a book, then say nothing. I feel there is nothing worse than being venomous towards a book. Crimesquad.com reviewers are objective – to say what they enjoyed and what they felt didn’t quite work in their eyes. However, the overall review should be positive – you have to remember these writers have been writing this book for months, if not years. Who has the right to pull apart someone’s hard work simply for the pleasure or by the fact that they can? But in the same breath we have always wanted to be fair to our readers as we are advising them what books to buy with their hard earned money.
Another Crimesquad.com mantra from the very beginning was to tell people what was good out there in the crime fiction arena. I wanted to ‘promote’ crime fiction – not tell people what not to buy. Not all books are amazing and brilliant. If your favourite author comes out with a bad ‘un, do you reject them immediately? No, you say they had a bad day and their next one will be back to their normal standard (which it invariably is). Would you want to pick it apart and hold all the bad things up to the light? Not really. Crime fiction readers are generally a kind hearted and loyal folk. So, if you have ideas to start reviewing my advice is keep your integrity, think of the writer’s integrity before you flush their work down the pan, think what sort of review YOU would like to read and be honest, but not brutally so. Oh, and be ready for the mother load of crime books to come flying through your letterbox. I am still staggered by the amount I receive each day – staggered, but still enchanted though as it is like Christmas every day. My postman doesn’t feel the same way. I am sure he was a lot taller when I first moved here than he is today!