08 November 2011

Tsk, tsk, they never learn, or do they?

This week Twitter lit up with the revelation that a new, well-received spy novel - QR Markham's Assassin of Secrets - was heavily lifted from other spy novels (including James Bond, to which the book was compared).  Little, Brown recalled the entire print run (The Book Bench blog at the New Yorker summarizes and muses on the situation well).  Ed Rants went on a hunt for the lifted passages and found so many from different sources that the plagiarised novel is looking more and more like a collage.

My question is, how did Markham think no one would ever find the lifted sections?  It's not like he ripped off an obscure, out-of-print-and-copyright novel that few would remember.  He lifted from Geoffrey O'Brien, Charles McCarry, and John Gardner (according to Halford a whole six page stretch was lifted from a Gardner novel).  People obviously still read and are fans of those authors.  Pulling stupid stunts like this really gives both the author and publisher a black eye.  The editor and publisher especially for not catching the plagiarism beforehand. 

Conversely, is Markham doing this on purpose?  An article he wrote for HuffPo (which has since been pulled) was largely cobbled together from an O'Brien work.  The Paris Review ran one of his short stories in 2002 which has since been found to contain passages from a Graham Greene book.  It almost seems like he was testing the system, dipping a toe to take the temperature and see if he could slip an entire novel collated from existing novels.

If Markham is "punking" the literary world, no one is laughing.  Least of all Little, Brown.  I just want to know why - was it Markham's intent to deliberately put this book out there and see if anyone would notice or was he honestly hoping it would go under the radar so he could make more money off the series contract?

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