Monday, February 13, 2006

Michael Dibdin flouts convention

If there is one cast-iron rule in what used to be called Fleet Street (i.e. the UK newspaper business) it is that any journalist who writes a book can absolutely guarantee that said book will be reviewed in his own and every other major newspaper. Why? Because every journalist is going to write a book sooner or later, and they will all want their books to be reviewed everywhere. QED. It's a case of mutual back-scratching; not only the done thing but actually given legal embodiment (see section 62 of the Old Pals Act of 1898).

So, when the Guardian's political commentator Jonathan Freedland wrote a thriller, under the pen-name Sam Bourne, he had no difficulty in getting the Guardian's books desk to send it out for review. In this case to Michael Dibdin, a fairly regular crime reviewer for the Grauniad.

Unfortunately, the book team seem to have forgotten to tell Dibdin that the book was by One of Us, and when the review came in it was less than enthusiastic. 'A mixture of plonking facts and breathless platitudes... you read on, if only out of morbid curiosity about which bit of kabbalistic hokum you're expected to swallow next.... really bad writing.'

Oh dear. This wouldn't do at all. So they asked Dibdin to tweak it up a bit. Substitute 'brilliant' for 'bad', for instance.

Whereupon Dibdin had a fit of the integrities and sent the review to the Times instead. Who not only published it but explained why, in the People column.

This really isn't good enough, you know. Someone ought to take this chap Dibdin to one side and explain how things are done. Whatever next? Books reviewed according to whether they're any good or not?

Dibdin, by the way, is a writer himself. Author of the Aurelio Zen series. Which I don't actually like, but that's another story.

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