Thursday, November 10, 2011

Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets

In Martin Amis’ debut novel, The Rachel Papers, published in 1973, precocious teenager Charles Highway sits exams to study English at Oxford University, after which he is interviewed by one of the professors in his rooms. Dr Charles Knowd begins the interview by asking Highway if he likes literature. “What kind of question is that?” asks the young man. Knowd replies:
‘“For example. In the Literature paper you complain that Yeats and Eliot... ‘in their later phases opted for the cold certainties that can work only outside the messiness of life. They prudently repaired to the artifice of eternity, etc. etc.’ This then gives you a grand-sounding line on the ‘faked inhumanity’ of the seduction of the typist in The Waste Land – a point you owe to W. W. Clarke – which, it seems, is just a bit too messy all of a sudden. Again, in the Criticism paper you jeer at Lawrences ‘unreal sexual grandiosity’, using Middleton Murry on Women in Love, also without acknowledgement. In the very next line you scold his ‘overfacile equation of art and life.’”

He sighed. “On Blake you seem quite happy to paraphrase the ‘Fearful Symmetry’ stuff about ‘autonomous verbal constructs, necessarily unconnected with life’, but in your Essay paper you come on all excited about the ‘urgency… with which Blake educates and refines our emotions, side-stepping the props and splints of artifice’. Ever tried side-stepping a splint, by the way? Or educating someone urgently, for that matter?

“Donne is okay one minute because of his ‘emotional courage’, the way he seems to ‘stretch out his emotions in the very fabric of the verse’, and not okay the next because you detect... what is it you detect? – ah yes, a ‘meretricious exaltation of verbal play over real feeling, tailoring his emotion to suit his metrics’. Now which is it to be? I really wouldn’t carp, but these remarks come from the paragraph and are about the same stanza.

“I won’t go on... Literature has a kind of life of its own, you know. You can’t just use it...ruthlessly, for your own ends...”
To play with the phrasing of Dr Knowd’s assessment of Charles Highway, Quentin Rowan has, I think, used others’ literature ruthlessly for his own ends (if you havent followed this story, please see my last post). But in doing so, he did, curiously, also create something that had ‘a life of its own’, and to adopt a pseudo-academic tone, what one might call a mask of knowing and an unearned, one could say, automatic resonance.

Apart from taking the piss out of the inevitable academic studies of this book that I think will soon appear, what do I mean by that? Let me try to explain, in terms which I hope are not pseudo-academic, self-serving or forgiving, but an honest attempt to understand why I liked the book so much, and why it ‘worked’, at least for a time. Since the plagiarism in Assassin of Secrets has come to light, I’ve seen remarks from several people wondering how on earth it was not spotted earlier, by his agent, his editors, reviewers, or Greg Rucka, Duane Swierczynski and myself, all of whom praised the book and are now angered  at having missed what it was. I haven’t gone through every line of the book, but it seems clear that the vast majority of it, pretty much down to every paragraph, was stitched together from other works: at least a dozen in total. But even if you weren’t familiar with the works he stole from, some have asked, surely it must have been obvious that the book was not original because it would have been totally incoherent?

Well, no. It is a coherent novel. The plot is not its driving force, as it might be in a crime story, and in many ways it read to me like a collection of set scenes, which of course was what it was. But that feeling – absent the knowledge that it was plagiarized – was part of its charm. I don’t believe that the book was a post-modern experiment to expose the publishing industry or anything of that sort, as some have inevitably suggested, simply because ruining your own career and having to pay your advance back in the process is not all that fun an experiment. Was Richard Condon doing the same when he plagiarized I, Claudius in The Manchurian Candidate? Or was he, more likely, simply plagiarizing and hoping nobody would spot it, as indeed in that case nobody did for many years. (I don’t know if anyone has examined the book in more detail since 2003, but I suspect there may be a lot more plagiarism in it, and probably in Condon’s other novels, too.)

But a great part of the appeal of Assassin of Secrets, to me anyway, was what I felt to be its post-modernism, albeit in a very different way. It reminded me of several other novels – sadly, not the ones he plagiarized! It reminded me in parts of Cockpit, Jerzy Kosinki’s 1975 novel about a former spy called Tarden, which contains a lot of dazzling writing but reads as fragmentary excerpts. This is perhaps not all that surprising, as Kosinski has also been exposed as a plagiarist (long after he was published, and won many awards), and Cockpit is now thought to have been a compilation of pieces Kosinski commissioned from unknown writers and then assembled, partially helped by a young Paul Auster. 

It also reminded me in parts of David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. Like Cockpit, that film is compelling not for its plot, which is unfathomable or non-existent, but in the way it plays with our memories of and feelings for genre conventions. Both Cockpit and Mulholland Drive feel like dreams, where narrative rules are abandoned, leaving dead-ends that allow the reader or viewer to step in and find their own resonances. It also reminded me in parts of Inception, which does have a coherent plot (I think) but does much the same. At one point in that film, Cobb and his team have to infiltrate a guarded clinic – that’s plot. But Christopher Nolan could have placed that clinic anywhere, and the plot would have been the same. He decided to place it in a snowy mountain fortress, I think so he could have fun exploring, almost in isolation of the plot, our memories of and expectations of a James Bond film. 

The plot of Assassin of Secrets was more coherent than Cockpit or Mulholland Drive, but not as coherent as Inception. It worked, and held the attention, but it was not the chief appeal: it was understood that it was a vehicle for spy shenanigans around the world. The book also reminded me of Tunc and Nunquam, two linked novels by Lawrence Durrell that play with spy thriller conventions, and James Bond, and leap about all over the place. There is a plot, but it’s not what I primarily find enjoyable about those novels, the latter of which, incidentally, features a snowbound clinic, and of which The Observers critic wrote: There are times when one wonders if one isnt reading some unholy coupling of Swinburne and Ian Fleming.

It was the style that I liked most about Assassin of Secrets. That style was predominantly taken from the American spy novelist Charles McCarry, at least five of whose novels Rowan plagiarized: The Tears of Autumn, Christopher’s Ghosts, Shelley’s Heart, The Last Supper and Second Sight. I’ve read the first two of those mentioned several years ago, and remember next to nothing about them other than that the protagonist is a CIA officer who is also a poet, that I enjoyed them, and that the prose was wonderful. Much of what I admired in Assassin of Secrets, I now realize, was McCarry’s prose, which looks to take up roughly half the book, although that may not have been the case with the draft his agent submitted to publishers. On July 2 2010, shortly after he was offered a two-book deal by Little, Brown, Rowan wrote to me via Facebook:
Now I spose I wait for them to summon me to sign some contracts and then I’m working with the editor. Can’t remember if I told you, but besides changing the title, he wants me to change a few scenes he thought too Bond-like. If they’re really going to stick me with this new title, I’m thinking of proposing ‘An Enemy of War’ instead. Even so, it’s quite forgettable.

Trying to take it easy now and celebrate but mind is mostly racing miles ahead of me. Luckily, I’ve already started the second book...

All the Best,

Too Bond-like’ is quite something, as most of the published novel that is not plagiarized from McCarry is plagiarized from Bond novels. Presuming he was telling me the truth, I wonder how much Bond was in his original submission to his agent. But perhaps this was a lie designed to put me off the scent, although it seems an odd way to do that. We had discussed our favourite authors in the genre before. On May 4 2010, he had emailed me:
‘Have you tried Adam Diment? or James Dark (Don’t think that was his real name, but his spy is named Mark Hood). I’ve found them both pretty enjoyable, though a little light-weight. One thing I’ve found in my research is that there really aren’t that many American spy novelists who are any good. Perhaps only Charles McCarry. Though I suppose there are good American thriller writers, their prose is usually slightly awful. Take Robert Ludlum, for example.’
I have read a few novels by Adam Diment and James Dark (though please don’t test me on them), and told him so. I also told him that I had read some McCarry and enjoyed it, but that I hadnt read all his work perhaps at this point he decided to add more McCarry into the book.

Quentin Rowans emails to me were, either accidentally or by design, well aimed. I share his view of Ludlum, who of course he also plagiarized in Assassin of Secrets. I think it may be that he knew I would share these views, as I have probably spouted them somewhere online in the last decade, and he was simply parroting them back at me. Or he may have genuinely felt this way – in which case why did he plagiarize Ludlum, if he thought his prose was ‘slightly awful’? Well, not all of Ludlum’s prose is that, of course. Ludlum has sold over 200 million books, so he was doing something right. And I think that was primarily two things: premise, and pace. By the first, I mean Ludlum had some terrific premises, most notably that of The Bourne Identity, of a government assassin who has forgotten who he is and is being chased by his desperate employers. As I explored in this essay, it is clearly inspired by Ian Fleming, who I think in turn may have taken the premise from two previous writers. But Ludlum made it his own, and made it exciting. On pace, Ken Follett has written that a story ‘should turn about every four to six pages’. McCarry does not subscribe to that idea; Ludlum sometimes has several major turns in one page. These are often rendered in hackneyed and laboured prose and signalled by internal dialogue in italics with exclamation points, but they have their own intensity that sweeps you up and keeps you reading.

And Ludlum didn’t always write in hackneyed prose. Those bits tend to stand out and irritate me, but he also wrote plenty of vivid and evocative descriptions, sometimes overly florid but sometimes judged just right. He was notorious for making mistakes about guns, but his fight scenes are usually gripping. He was also extremely prolific, perhaps making detection seem less likely. It looks to me as though Quentin Rowan took several passages from Ludlum that he thought fitted his purposes. They provided his hero with some muscularity – the stereotypical secret agent who can kill everyone in the room using a toothpick. Assassin of Secrets also reminded me of Trevanian, incidentally, who parodied this sort of thing brilliantly in Shibumi, The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction, often in such a deadpan style that it was not noticed. 

Yes, it reminded me of a lot of books, and the wrong books to boot – but there are a lot of books out there. His protagonist, Jonathan Chase, is (was?) an amalgamation of attributes: like many of Ludlum’s protagonists, he is determined, fit, and repeatedly evades death with consummate skill, often in close combat with opponents. This came back into fashion with the film version of The Bourne Identity in 2002, meaning that segments taken from old Ludlum novels now seem up-to-the minute even when, perhaps especially when, transferred into a Cold War setting. Jonathan Chase is also up against a vast villainous organization who meet in a secret headquarters in a Casablanca market accessed via a steel passageway. If you’ve read Raymond Benson’s 1999 James Bond novel High Time To Kill, you may recognize that this is where he took that from, but I read that book in 1999 and interviewed Raymond Benson about it, and didn’t notice. Rowan, relocating all the action to the late Sixties, combined Benson’s scene with one from McCarry’s Second Sight. Rowan’s villain, The Mirza, looks precisely like Benson’s villain, Le Gérant, and speaks many of his lines verbatim. But he also resembles McCarry’s villain Yeho, and speaks many of his lines verbatim. Likewise, Rowan’s character Neville Scott is a mix of McCarry’s character Horace Christopher and Benson’s character Dr Steven Harding. 

McCarry’s characters are much more recognizably realistic than Benson, Ludlum or Gardner’s – he was writing a different sort of spy novel, and it doesn’t contain fist-fights or underground lairs, but is rather more concerned with lie detector tests and elaborate deception operations that play out like chess games. Rowan took elements of both, and combined them into a stew that in hindsight may seem obvious (especially if you were not fooled originally!), but which I genuinely found not just coherent, but compelling. Here’s an example of how he did it, with a passage from page 9 of Assassin of Secrets in which an American agent, Number One, is drawn by a beautiful woman on a train to her compartment, whereupon she attacks him:
‘With a shout, he delivered a kick to the blond woman’s chest, knocking her back. The blow was meant to cause serious damage, but it landed too far to the left of the sternal vital-point target. Number One was momentarily surprised that she didn’t fall, but he immediately drove his fist into her abdomen. That was his first mistake – mixing his fighting styles. He’d been using a mixture of karate and traditional Western boxing, whereas the female had picked a system and stuck with it. He kept on, though, lunging away, and smelling her stinking Je Reviens perfume, but he knew these sensations were only a dream. In reality they were floating in a skiff down the Seine, listening to a tinny phonograph record of a girl singing in French. How beautifully the girl sang, how the river smelled of the flowers that turned its torpid waters into perfume, how much like his own mind and voice were the mind and voice of this chanteuse! It was uncanny.
Someone seized his lower lip and twisted. The pain changed his idea of where he was. His right eye focused, briefly, and he glimpsed the blond woman’s eyes. She was on top of him now, thrusting her forearm into Number One’s neck, exerting tremendous pressure on his larynx. With his right hand, the American fumbled in his pants pocket, attempting to get at his insurance policy. The blond managed to elbow him in the ribs, but this only served to increase his determination. She managed to get her hands around the man’s neck, but it was too late; Number One deftly retrieved the twenty-ounce Mk 2 “pineapple” fragmentation grenade from his trousers and pulled the pin.
She dived through the compartment door and fell to the floor in the hallway. Afterward, the assassin known as Snow Queen thought that she remembered the flash of the explosion lighting the flat face of the American spy and the blast lifting his thick black hair so that it stood on end. The noise was a long time coming. Before she heard the explosion, like the snap of a heavy howitzer, she saw the whole body of the train car swell like a balloon full of water. The glass blew out and the compartment door cut through the rest of the car like a great black knife.
Concussion sent blood gushing out of her broken nose. She could hear nothing except a high ringing in her ears. All around her, mouths opened in noiseless screams of terror. She lay where she was with her eyes open.
In a few hours a policeman wearing a lacquered French helmet liner leaned over her and spoke. The blond woman pointed to her ears and said, “I’m deaf.” She heard nothing of her own voice but felt its movement over her tongue. The policeman pulled her to her feet and led her out of the debris. She would have been killed by the fire truck that roared up behind them if the Frenchman had not pulled her out of the way.’
Is this coherent? I thought it was, and thoroughly enjoyed it: a close, terse, vividly painted fight, but also spinning off unexpectedly to a dream sequence, and ending with a superb piece of description of an explosion and its aftermath. I was hooked, and wanted to read on. 

The scene is constructed entirely from three other passages, one by Raymond Benson and two by Charles McCarry. Here’s the scene by Benson, from Zero Minus Ten:
‘With a shout, he leapt in the air and delivered a Yobi-geri kick to Bond’s chest, knocking him back. The blow was meant to cause serious damage, but it landed too far to the left of the sternal vital point target. Michaels was momentarily surprised that Bond didn’t fall, but he immediately drove his fist into Bond’s abdomen. That was the assassin’s first mistake – mixing his fighting styles. He was using a mixture of karate, kung fu, and traditional Western boxing. Bond believed in using whatever worked, but he practiced hand-to-hand combat in the same way that he gambled. He picked a system and stuck with it.
By lunging at Bond’s stomach, the man had left himself wide open, enabling Bond to backhand him to the ground. Giving him no time to think, Bond sprang on top of him and punched him hard in the face, but Michaels used his strength to roll Bond over onto his back, and, thrusting his forearm into Bond’s neck, exerted tremendous pressure on 007′s larynx once again. With his other hand, the young man fumbled with Bond’s waterproof holster, attempting to get at the gun. Bond managed to elbow his assailant in the ribs, but this only served to increase his aggression. Bond got his hands around the man’s neck, but it was too late. Michaels deftly retrieved the Walther PPK 7.65mm from the holster and jumped to his feet.
“All right, freeze!” he shouted at Bond, standing over him, the gun aimed at his forehead…’
Here is the passage from McCarry’s Second Sight:
‘Patchen kept hearing Maria Rothchild’s voice and smelling the smoke from her stinking Gauloises Bleues cigarettes, but he knew these sensations were only a dream. In reality he was floating in a sampan on the River of Perfumes, listening to a tinny phonograph record of a girl singing in Vietnamese. Vo Rau translated the lyrics: “She says that God is the smallest thing in the universe, so small that he cannot be imagined; he does not wish to be imagined, so he fills the sky with the stars that are his uncountable thoughts and we look not at the place where he is, but at the places where he has never been.” Patchen nodded sagaciously; this much of the truth he had already perceived. How beautifully the girl sang, how the river smelled of the flowers that turned its torpid waters into perfume, how much like his own mind and voice were the mind and voice of Vo Rau! It was uncanny.
Someone seized Patchen’s lower lip and twisted. The pain changed his idea of where he was. Maria Rothchild said, “Wake up, David.” His right eye focused, briefly, and he glimpsed Maria’s face.’
And here’s the passage from McCarry’s The Tears of Autumn:
‘Afterward, he thought that he remembered the flash of the explosion lighting the flat face of the Chinese boy and the blast lifting the boy’s thick black hair so that it stood on end. The noise was a long time coming. Before he heard the explosion, like the slap of a heavy howitzer, he saw the whole body of the car swell like a balloon full of water. The glass blew out and one door cut through the crowd like a great black knife.
Concussion sent blood gushing out of his nose. He could hear nothing except a high ringing in his ears. All around him, mouths opened in noiseless screams of terror. He lay where he was with his eyes open.
In a few moments a policeman wearing a lacquered American helmet liner leaned over him and spoke. Christopher pointed to his ears and said, “I’m deaf.” He heard nothing of his own voice but felt its movement over his tongue. The policeman pulled him to his feet and led him toward the end of the street. He would have been killed by the fire truck that roared up behind them if the policeman had not pulled him out of the way.’
Fairly astonishing. I think it is too easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that the joins are easy to spot in the scene above. I don’t think that is the case, even reading it again now. It is also well established that combining different pieces of ones own writing can create fresh and surprising effects and resonances, and I think thrillers often thrive on this sort of dotting about and unpredictability. It can be highly effective, and I think it was in this scene and many others. So I think it would be dishonest to claim that this subterfuge should have been obvious to any editor, or reviewer, or, well, me: even if you had happened to have read all three of these novels and I had only read one I think it would be chance if you spotted it. It took a certain amount of intelligence and ingenuity to have pieced these passages together to make a coherent and readable scene, and moreover Rowan did this for the entire novel, using over a dozen sources for his unholy but also illegal coupling. This example, I think, illustrates the technique he used for much of the book: action and dialogue from Bond and Ludlum novels are interspersed with poetic flourishes and descriptions from across McCarry’s work. Jonathan Chase’s entire backstory is also taken from McCarry’s Second Sight, and grounds the character in a surreal but convincing espionage reality.

It took some ingenuity, but that ingenuity is still very limited, and in my view doesn’t even begin to equate with the talent and work of those he plagiarized. I suspect I could, if I wanted, create a novel in this way. I couldn’t write the original passages, though – that is quite another order of ingenuity, and how long Rowan took to piece passages from books together to make it read convincingly doesn’t matter in the least: it was a Charles Highway-style robbery of several other writersideas, and unfortunately I was not familar enough with his sources to perform a Dr Knowd on him: Im fairly widely read in the genre, I think, but I havent read every spy novel ever published, dont have a photographic memory, and quite simply wasn’t looking for this. And while I think the idea to do this was cunning, albeit totally unethical and absurdly unlikely to have remained undetected for long once it reached thousands of eyes, I don’t agree that it would have been easier to have written the novel from scratch. I’m pretty sure he couldn’t do that, which is why he cut and pasted the whole book. Clever forgery does not stand on a level with original creation, and having good taste in which spy novels to plagiarize isn’t much to laud, either.

Some have said that plagiarism, derivation and influence are on a sliding scale, and I agree. Some newspapers mistakenly reported that Rowan plagiarized Ian Fleming, but it’s a thought-provoking error, as part of the reason I enjoyed it was because in many parts it read like a pastiche of Fleming, only played straight – a kind of Bond novel in inverted commas. And in some ways, that is what the post-Fleming novels are, because they are indebted to the original creation and trying to find new takes on it while having fun with what we all associate with Fleming’s books and the films adapted from them. Outside a James Bond novel, a villainous organization meeting in a secret headquarters reads as Bond pastiche. It is also the case that Ian Fleming was taken to court for plagiarism, and settled, and that he sometimes refashioned premises and ideas from other writers, as I’ve written about. In You Only Live Twice, James Bond’s philosophy is quoted as ‘I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.’ As John Pearson revealed in his 1966 biography of Fleming, this line was Jack London’s, and Fleming used it without attribution. 

One can argue what is acceptable behaviour in such matters, but I think it is clear that Fleming is on the end of the scale marked sometimes derivative while Assassin of Secrets is at the other end, marked straightforward plagiarism. It’s a fascinating and bizarre thing to have done, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking there was anything admirable in it. The honest publishing professionals who paid him and spent their time promoting him, creating artwork for him, arranging events for him and all the rest in good faith, and the talented writers whose work he so shamelessly stole, deserve more respect than to glorify his actions as some noble anti-establishment ruse, piece of performance art or any nonsense of that sort. Rather than seeking fault with his victims, it would be much more responsible to condemn Rowan’s fraud and theft.


  1. Beautifully written piece, Jeremy — too bad it's an exact copy of an opinion piece written by . . . ;-) Kidding. Great stuff, well thought out and so elegantly and originally put.

  2. Thanks very much, Grant.

    Having left a message on Quentin Rowan's answer machine (realizing belatedly that he had included his home phone number in an email signature months ago), I just received the following email from him:

    'Dear Jeremy,

    My apologies for not making an apology sooner. People have told me to wait on writing anyone because I may still be in shock. Also, I just thought I ought to wait for a little perspective to come. I can see how angry you are and know that I deserve every bit of it and more. I promise you that the inside of my head is not a pretty place right now and i am not sitting somewhere enjoying this or laughing about it. There is nothing anyone can say that could make me feel worse than I already do. I am so sorry that I ever got you involved in this mess and would really like to try to explain it all to you. I just can't do that if you are going to print it or tweet it (for legal reasons etc.) But if we can talk off the record, I will call you back or send a written explanation and fuller letter of apology. Once again, I am truly and deeply sorry, and still remain a great admirer of your work.

    With deepest regrets,

    I'm not sure what to think of it at the moment, but I appreciate that he did write it, and - having run a few sentences quickly through Google - it appears to be all his own work.

  3. Watching this spin out through media coverage and your blog has been fascinating. With as many stories as we've seen in recent years, this is the closest I think we've come to seeing interactions with the author and others before it came out. That's the thing about unlimited email storage and archived web articles.

    I've been part of a group of writers discussing this, and while the horror of it goes undiluted, reading the interviews, I think, can give at least some of us a moment of empathy. Those who are unagented and unpublished and struggle on writing stories no one seems interested in publishing only to see television reality stars get multi-book deals or countless rehashes of the same tired plots get sold at auction time and time again can wear on those who dream of publishing. When you want to write a story that's original and all that's getting picked up are zombies and vampires and werewolves and some combination of the three, I could see an errant thought passing through going "I'll give them EXACTLY what they want" never thinking it would get as far as it does.

    I also can't imagine the horror, though, after giggling at people falling all over themselves to represent you, of getting the calls you dreamt of: from agents, from editors, and watching it snowball to such a point that you have no idea how to get out of it.

    Yes, I can imagine that his head is not a pretty place right now. And while I do have that spark of empathy, I also know that more money will be thrown at those "gimme" books, and fewer presses will want to take a chance on a first-time author fearing the same thing would happen to them as happened to Little, Brown. No press wants to be the one with egg all over its face at the end of the day. And it casts everyone who keeps trying in the worst possible light. So many people, such as Mr. Duns, will think twice about blurbing first-timers now, or offering that hand up.

    And the spark is very quickly extinguished. The punishment of living with never having a chance to have your own work published after that, however, is probably going to be tough enough.

  4. Jeremy: After reading about the plagiarism on Pretty Sinister Books I read your fine essay. I prepared a post that includes some legal analysis at I regret the duplicity of Rowan towards you.

  5. An apology for not making an apology sooner. Cute. Although, the note succeeds in not apologizing for the original cause of the offense.

    Then there's the condition attached to the "...try to explain it all..." So, he believes he gets to limit what you may or may not print or tweet.

    I can't think of a good reason for spending any more time speaking with the guy. That said, I was not the person unfortunate enough to be the on the receiving end of his scam.

    If I had been, I might well be curious to watch him twist as he tried to "explain it all".

  6. Thanks, Cyndy, Bill and KjM, and to everyone else for their comments, both here and elsewhere. I'll try to bring thos to a close now. Following the above email from Quentin Rowan, I suggested to him that I was far from the only person he should be apologizing to, and that he should get in touch with everyone he plagiarized and others he fooled at once - not that this would mean they would all forgive him, but simply because this was the right thing to do and they deserved it. He agreed, and said he had already made a start. I also asked him for a fuller explanation, but said I would publish it here. He agreed, so here we are:

    Quentin Rowan: 'When I was 19 a poem I wrote in high school was chosen for The Best American Poetry 1996. Up until that time I was an indifferent writer, a dabbler really, at the best of times. I was in college and like everyone trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. (Mostly I just wanted to play Rock music.) I took this anthology business as a sign that I was meant to be a famous writer. However, unlike any normal person who works at something a long time and eventually gets good, I decided I had to be good then and there. Because I was already supposed to be the Best. I didn't really plagiarize poetry, it was when I switched to fiction (God knows why) at the age of twenty that I began to distrust my own voice and began swiping other people's words or phrases because I thought they sounded better or more clever than my own. Perhaps if there had been no pressure to keep publishing it might have been different, but in my mind my course was set.

    Many times through my twenties I stopped trying to write altogether, because once I got started on something that felt good enough for publication, I would inevitably start wanting to make it "better" and start stealing things. Therefore some things I did in the past ten years are perfectly clean and others, obviously, aren't. There was a need to conceal my own voice with the armor of someone else's words.

    This is what happened with Assassin of Secrets, or Spy Safari. It started out as something fun and just for me. A much sillier, more parodic kind of thing.( I should state that it was initially inspired by my long-time love and study of the genre, not any kind of contempt for it.) Then I decided maybe I could do something with it. But the minute I got an agent and started showing it to people who suggested changes, I began to distrust the quality of whatever real work I'd done on it. So I started ripping off passages from spy novels in my collection that fit. Somehow public scrutiny has always been the pressure point for me. Once I feel I'm doing the work for someone else's eyes, I begin stealing, because I want to impress.

    Once the book was bought, I had to make major changes in quite a hurry, basically re-write the whole thing from scratch, and that's when things really got out of hand for me. I just didn't feel capable of writing the kinds of scenes and situations that were asked of me in the time allotted and rather than saying I couldn't do it, or wasn't capable, I started stealing again. I didn't want to be seen as anything other than a writing machine, I guess. Some call it "people pleasing." Anyway, the more I did it, the deeper into denial I went, until it felt as if I had two brains at war with each other. Half of my time this past year was spent in a strange internal argument: Yes I can, no I can't. They'll figure it out! No they won't! It became like a strange schizophrenic form of gambling, and for some reason - viewing myself as a failed 'literary' writer - I saw this book as my "last shot." So even though what was left of my rational mind understood I would probably be found out, I still thought I had to bet it all on this one horse.'

  7. Have you ever seriously worried about being caught, or did you just put it to one side somehow? What were you thinking when signing books?

    'Yes, as mentioned above, I worried day and night. I rarely slept and mostly felt like an actor on a stage in my day to day life. Signing books made me feel deathly ashamed, around so many good people, but I'd already thrown the dice so long ago by that point I felt there was nothing I could do but play the out the awful pantomime.'

    Have you ever published something entirely your own work without any plagiarism from anyone else? Please, be honest. Nobody's going to publish you anyway now.

    'The poem I mentioned above that I wrote as a teenager. Other poems in the magazines Witness and Fine Madness. The interviews I did for the NY Post including the one with Paul Auster. Two unpublished coming-of-age novels.'

    Did you actually interview Paul Auster, and if so did you cut corners there at all? Just interested. I suspect you did something not quite right there.

    'I went to his house and he told me about his new book "Travels in the Scriptorium" and I went home and wrote up what he said. Promise.'

    Perhaps you could make a list of all your publications that were plagiarized. I'll start: Paris Review story, BOMB, Assassin of Secrets. Poetry, too? Let's have a full list and get this out in the open. Again, why lie now? What is known is so extensive you will never be published, so why not, finally, be honest, and get it off your chest?

    'No poetry. The one line from Graham Greene in Bethune Street (Paris Review). Sections of an earlier story in the Paris Review from an old sea travelogue, Amy Clampitt,and Jean Baudrillard. A few lines from Nicholas Mosley's beautiful book "Accident" in Intelligence (Bomb). Assassin of Secrets from several different sources already noted. Parts of our interview for Hodder from Geoffrey O'Brien. Parts of my Huffington Post piece from Geoffrey O'Brien (a fantastic essay called "Spies" in his amazing book "Dream Time.") And then a segment of Harper's "The World of the Thriller" for the piece on "Riddle of the Sands." I believe that is all.'

    What were your sources for Assassin of Secrets?

    'They've all been found I believe. All the books mentioned by the great spy novelists Charles McCarry (Second Sight, Tears of Autumn, The Last Supper, Old Boys, Christopher's Ghosts, The Secret Lovers), John Gardner (License Renewed, Icebreaker, For Special Services, Nobody Lives Forever, Scorpius), Robert Ludlum (The Prometheus Deception, The Janson Directive) and Raymond Benson (Zero Minus Ten, Never Dream of Dying) Please forgive me if I've missed any. Also: James Bamford's book about the NSA. O'Brien's essay "Spies" again.'

  8. How did you not think that eventually someone would spot it? Your agent didn't (I hope!), your editors didn't, I didn't, Kirkus and PW and several others didn't - but that's, what, 20 or so people? Let's say 50 max. So 50 people weren't familiar enough with the dozen or so books you used to spot it. Lucky. But did you not consider that, once published, many more people would read it, and that as more did the odds got much worse for you not to get caught? Robert Ludlum, for example, has sold over 200 million books. There are a lot of Bond fans out there, and indeed one of them spotted it. So how did you not think this through?

    'This is the part that is so hard to explain logically or rationally. I can only compare it to other kinds of obsession or addictive behavior like gambling or smoking: in that there was no need to do it initially, but once I'd started I couldn't stop and my mind kept finding ways to rationalize the behavior. Even though, somewhere deep in the chasms of my thick brain, I knew it would destroy me: it did something for me in the moment. Not sure what to call it: the fantasy that I had written these words? That I, too, could be a world-class spy novelist? Whatever it was, I know there was some kind of built-in death wish, for as you say: these are not obscure authors. Especially not in the spy fiction community.'

    How did you do it? Copy-pasting via torrented versions? Laying out on your carpet? Just interested. Did you plan it as a plot? Please be honest - don't say you spent a year figuring out how the plot would all fit together beautifully and make something wholly new and post-modern if you didn't actually do that, but threw it together relatively easily by simply picking bits you thought were cool.

    'I wish I was smart enough to have thought of copy-pasting. No, I sat there with the books on my kitchen table and typed the passages up word for word. I had a plot in mind, initially, and looked for passages that would work within that context. People told me the initial plot was dull (spies being killed all over Europe - no one knows why), so I changed it to be more like the premise of McCarry's "Second Sight" which was a whole lot more interesting. I had certain things I wanted to see happen in the initial plot: a double cross, a drive through the South of France, a raid on a snowy satellite base. Eventually I found passages that adhered to these kinds of scenes that only meant changing the plot a little bit here and there. It felt very much like putting an elaborate puzzle together. Every new passage added has its own peculiar set of edges that had to find a way in. When I began to edit it for the publisher, that's when things really got out of hand. I was being asked to come up with whole new scenes to fit into the already stitched-up old ones. It really was like making Frankenstein's monster as people have commented. A kind of patchwork job. I've never really believed there's such a thing as post-modernity, by the way. Having already committed myself mentally to this process of driving myself into the ground, through denial and magical thinking, I just wanted to make the best 60s style spy novel I could: with all the tropes and trimmings one expects.'

  9. Why those authors? Okay, you didn't pick Fleming, le Carre and Deighton, and McCarry I can understand as he is is not all that widely read and gave you a lot of beautiful prose to steal, but Robert Ludlum and the post-Fleming Bond authors have very wide audiences. We corresponded about some very obscure spy novelists, you raising some. To test me? I don't understand why you didn't choose solely very obscure authors. That would still have been totally amoral, of course - but it would have been far more likely to work. Did you want to get caught?

    'I really enjoyed talking with you about all those old Cold War spy novelists and certainly wasn't trying to test you. It is my favorite genre of literature bar none and finding someone who not only had read things like Adam Diment and the Mark Hood books, but could recommend authors from that era I hadn't heard of was a true joy. I still look back on it with fondness, regardless of what's happened, because as you say it all felt very collegial and I so enjoyed Joseph Hone and the later Quiller books, etc. I suppose the truth is, I didn't steal from them because either their styles or their subject matters didn't fit what I already had. As you say, Charles McCarry is a truly ravishing prose writer, in any genre. I found ways to combine his fascinating descriptions and character psychology with the action sequences and vivid setting descriptions of John Gardner. These two styles fit well together, but it would have been jarring to upset the balance with Diment's more Austin Powers-esque qualities or anything quite that cartoonish. (Wow, this must really sound psychotic.)'

    Do you have any insights into spy fiction that are your own, and if so, why didn't you use them in our Q&A, instead of stealing them? Same applies to the novel: some have said it would have been less work for you to write your own than do this. So why didn't you?

    'By the time we got to do our Q and A, within the time-frame of this process, I was quite far gone. If one could compare plagiarism once more to addiction, that was the point at which I had to drink in the morning to keep from getting the DTs. That is to say, I could not make myself stop. A Q and A with a high-profile author whose work I've enjoyed immensely and look up to as a writer? I can't possibly be good enough or smart enough if I don't try to jack it up somehow and make myself seem smarter or wittier than I am. Thinking: this is the world's introduction to me and I have to sound brilliant! The truth is, I'm a tremendous fan of genre both Cold War era and present-day. I find I can relate to the figure of the cold and amoral spy who is sent off on a mission to do bad things for his government and has to dissemble while suppressing his anguish. I can also relate whole-heartedly to the bureaucrat spy: the Neil Burnsides, Tanners, or Smileys of that world who spend half of their days trying to get approval from the JIC or GCHQ for an op or just a new desk lamp. Having worked for years in a bookstore where I was pitted between two very opposing personalities, with very different ideas about the kinds of books to order and how to run a bookstore in general; I've always loved the realistic portrayal of professional stagnation in (primarily British) spy novels. In writing this it would seem that perhaps my connection is purely emotional? But I've always thought that to be a big part of the draw or allure of the thriller. They allow us to relate to a sort of idealized version of ourselves and allow us to experience vicariously the sense of all order being lost temporarily and then regained in a kind of purifying way. I imagine all of us, at times, would like to save the world. In answer to the last part of your question: I would say it was fear. Plain and simple. Fear that my own spy novel wouldn't be good enough. That I just didn't know enough about neat gadgets and missiles and satellites or government agencies to do it right.'

  10. Was all this cocking a snook at publishing, or some form of performance art? Or did you convince yourself it was? If so, are you still convinced of that?

    'As I said earlier, I'm not a big advocate of post-modernism or whatever came after it, whatever we are living in now. To me it's always looked like we had Modernism, which was fantastic for a while but tired everyone out with its possibilities and then we went back to more of a 19th century style of narrative. That is, in literary fiction. Meanwhile adventure novels, spy fiction, and the detective novel popped up and have provided us in the 20th and 21st century with this sort of wonderful and fantastic alternative to the literary novel. Sure all these genres have their conventions but I think they are the places the truly imaginative people are going these days. Genre is the place for endless possibility, renovation, and renewal. So, quite the opposite of cocking a snook, or playing a prank, I just wanted to be a genre writer because I like genre writing. I have never looked down on it, and certainly, certainly don't think genre writing is easier or more simplistic than literary writing. This was not a case of "Oh I bet it would be easy to write a spy novel." This was more a case of, My God, I love these books so much I wish I could write one myself. It was never a matter of being contemptuous of the material I took either, it was more like a matter of misguided admiration.

    Lastly, I'll just say that I did not come upon you in some random internet search. I bought your book because I saw it compared favorably with Len Deighton, read it, and loved it. Making Paul Dark a double agent from the start made the whole thing a modern "high-concept" kind of affair while the narrative itself in its unfolding followed the path of the 60's progenitors in familiar but still unexpected ways. The opening scene and Paul's cool description of his father's Nazi hit-squad was quite literally Bad-ass and the scenes in Nigeria were atmospherically evocative and realistically precise at the same time.

    Gosh I wish I could do it all over.

    My apologies once more,

  11. The whole thing about this that is so sad is that, yes, writing is hard work, and sending your words into the world to be read and judged is hard. But writing also brings me great joy and satisfaction. And that joy is what Quentin has cheated himself out of because he was scared.

    This is just part of the growing (yet terrible) idea that writers don't need to learn craft any more.

  12. Jeff

    Spot on. You can argue that the same thing has already happened with modern art: Emin, Hirst et al have all bypassed the "learn your craft" syllabus in favour of the "be famous now" seminars. There's no depth, no technique. The sculptor Grayson Perry makes several good arguments against modern "art".

    So, fiction is going the same way. Inevitable really when people confuse ease of access with actual technique and hard craft.

  13. Fascinating stuff, Mr. Duns. Thanks for sharing.

    From a broad perspective, this sort of thing can be good for publishing. It's easy for people to fall away from reading their favorite books and spend their time doing other things. Now you have this "super-user" reminding people of how beautiful books can be.

    People read fiction because they like to fall down the rabbit hole. This guy Rowan REALLY fell down the rabbit hole. In a way, it reminds people of what is possible when reading fiction.

    I guess Rowan didn't go about it in the right way, but still an interesting project.

    Publishing is a strange business. Let's hope they don't start suing their best customers like music and movies did.


  14. @Jeff: I think the guy is a status seeker, that he relinquished the simple fun of writing a long time ago. The whole thing stinks of a PR move to me. A bad PR move.

  15. Jeremy,
    You may be correct that nobody will ever publish him, but he can always do it himself, heaven knows enough of us are, and one wonders what name he'll use and how he'll go about keeping his identity secret. Of course if he is only seeking status, as somebody in this thread opined, writing for the joy of writing and selling a few ebooks here and there won't be enough to satisfy him.

    I don't know if I buy his reasoning. This "poor me" stuff is for the birds. If he didn't feel like he could hack it, he should have dug in and learned how to do it. But, as another on this thread said, we "want it now" and perhaps that had something to do it with it, and I will spend the rest of my life wondering why. It took me 15 years to write something publishable (I started writing at age 12), and a lot of those years were frustrating, but I'm selling now and that makes it worthwhile. Yes, I too "wanted it now" but I also knew I had a lot to learn so I dug in and learned it.

  16. I was looking at some psychology studies on mimicry. Most of the studies involved unconscious mimicry, so don't directly relate. But still interesting there is a body of research looking at how social exclusion increases mimicking behavior on an unconscious level.

    Lakin is one of the better known researchers in the field.
    Lakin, J.L., & Chartrand, T.L. (2003). Using nonconscious behavioral mimicry to create affiliation and rapport. Psychological Science, 14, 334–339.

  17. I'm still not sure if what I feel is classifiable as schadenfreude or just rage, but I'm feeling something. My own work is sold through my own imprint because I couldn't interest an agent. Stores like Spoonbill won't even carry it. Yet, I did learn craft. Have the MFA to prove it. Now, I see where my mistake was. Obviously, I should have just copied someone else's crap. Now QR Martin even tells us how. Just make sure it's more obscure next time.

  18. Thank you for this incredibly interesting and probing coverage. I think it's funny (or perhaps intentional) that you start off with a quote from Martin Amis's "The Rachel Papers." It was the object of plagiarism -- if that is the correct term for a book that was plagiarized from. The writer Jacob Epstein (the son of Barbara Epstein, founder of The New York Review of Books, and Jason Epstein, illustrious Random House editor) plagiarized parts of his first novel "Wild Oats" (coincidentally also published by Little, Brown -- in 1979) from "The Rachel Papers."

  19. Rowan only seems to be admitting to plagiarizing things that have already been publicly identified on the Reluctant Habits blog.

    The plagiarism in Bethune Street is more than just the line from Graham Greene; Bethune Street also contains plagiarized phrases or passages from Janet Hobhouse's November, Stephen Wright's Going Native, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, lines from from Howard Nemerov’s poetry, and probably more. “Excellence” steals more than a few lines from Nicholas Mosley: pretty much the whole thing is lifted from Mosley, and not only from Accident but also from Mosley’s Impossible Object.

    He says that two unpublished coming-of-age novels aren’t plagiarized, but doesn’t say what they are. However, his self-published collection “Bethune Street and Other Writings” has excerpts from a novel called “Appearance and the Park,” which plagiarizes Scott Bradfield’s The History of Luminous Motion, and Don Delillo’s America. Other stories in that collection also have plagiarized passages: “The German Girl” has plagiarized passages from Robert Coover’s John’s Wife, Karl Ackerman’s The Patron Saint of Unmarried Women, Linsey Abrams’ Double Vision; “Jonathan’s Mother” has plagiarized sections from Alan Shapiro’s essays; “What to Do until the Doctor Comes” has passages from Pete Hammil’s liner notes to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” and from Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life;
    the story “Chronometricals and Horologicals” steals from poetry by Robert Polito; “Hombre’s Way” plagiarizes from a chapter (“Luis”) in James F. David’s Fragments; “Back to Mimsy” steals phrases from Stanley Elkin’s George Mills; and the poem “Aquila” has a couple of similar phrases to one of Roethke’s. And no doubt there are many more examples that could be found.

    This is not just someone trying to embellish or improve his own writing or plots using other people’s phrasing. This is someone who’s been stealing whole plots and long passages as a matter of course.

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  21. I'm sure everyone who was duped into investing time and money into the book cares that it was in gross violation of a number of writers copyright and therefore unpublishable.

    Quentin Rowan committed two crimes: plagiarism and fraud. My view is that while people have been taken aback by the plagiarism, it's the fraud that has provoked the outrage. If Rowan had simply posted his mash-up for free on the internet, the plagiarism would have been the same, but the response would have been completely different.

    On Blake's second point, while it undeniably takes some skill to stitch together a mash-up of source material, it certainly doesn't require genius or even a kind of genius. It doesn't even require the mastery of craft that a forger needs to paint a fake Rembrandt or Van Gogh.

    If someone would rather read a patchwork copy over an original, that's up to them, but it's not going to help the publisher who's now got a stack of worthless books they have to pulp.

  22. He spent so much time piecing together sections of other novels that he copied word for word... well, that indicates a kind of perverse talent for creating something out of lots of other novels in a clever way. Actually a hugely wide-ranging grasp of other people's novels if the list quoted is to be believed. This is obviously an intelligent man who could have achieved a lot by trusting his own writer's voice. He has a problem which is possibly being brainwashed by all the 'social media' stuff that happens around us. We are always told to liken our writing to someone else's (more famous and successful of course) work when sending query letters. However, there are loads of writers who regularly rip off other works, either by plain copying or being horribly derivative. I am reading Terry Pratchett's unique Discworld series again and I spy (pardon me) so many allusions that have cropped up in another writer's work - said writer now hugely successful and disgustingly rich... I think this guy overdid it, and it remains to be seen if anyone will publish him again. It's sad that so many creative and orginal writers never get a book deal such as he was offeered.

  23. This is all fascinating. I find it interesting that what is considered an unforgivable sin in New York is business as usual in Hollywood. I remember watching Gladiator a few years ago, the battle in the snowy forrest at the beginning, the man on man battle at the end surrounded by Roman soldiers and thinking, my God, this is The Fall Of The Roman Empire, shot for shot! No credit given no explanation offered, just lots of money changing hands and an Oscar at the end of the rainbow. At least Quentin is embarrassed by his own actions. He gets points for that. If the literati won't let him play again, perhaps the illiterate will: Go West, young man!

  24. Not sure if the Gladiator example is comparable. I don't believe you can copyright a series of shots and, if you could, there'd be a strong case that the differences arising from all the work that went into production design, costume, acting, cinematography, sound editing, etc. would make the end product 'substantially transformative'.

    Even Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was a very different film to the original because of the unavoidable differences that arise from having a entirely different production team attempt to replicate a 'series of shots'.

    Gladiator would only have matched Assassin of Secrets if it had physically spliced in the actual footage from 'The Fall of the Roman Empire' and then dubbed over any names mentioned in the dialogue.

  25. As one of the early and vocal online critics who rejected Rowan's book as a brilliant post-modern pastiche to be praised as a new art form and who considered Rowan to be merely a literary pickpocket, I find myself now feeling strangely sympathetic. Who among us has not felt the impulse to take shortcuts? Who has not been stabbed by envy of those with no more—or even far less—talent who succeeded while we languished in obscurity? Who has not felt disabling self-doubt and wished for reassurance and quick resolution?

    As a young man, I might well have felt the pulls that undid Rowan, but I took another path at the fork. I resonate with those posts that refer to the craft and joy of writing. I spent nearly a half century learning and honing my craft as a writer—while selling articles and columns and books along the way. Now, I have reached that point where what was once hard and unrewarding has become easier and a source of great pleasure.

    In Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant Sunday in the Park with George, Dot tells George to “keep moving on” and not to worry whether what he creates is new. "As long as it is you, George, it will be new," she sings. So long as we write with our own words, with our own voices, from our own urges and experiences, we are making a contribution, adding something new to the stream of human experience.

    Your writing and interview, Jeremy, is just that: a contribution. Thanks.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  26. I find the whole story interesting, Jeremy, and I am very thankful that you have laid it all out so evocatively.

    I am of a mind that what Quentin Rowan has done is not authorship - but neither is it necessarily without merit. I feel the problem is that he has tried to smuggle a remix/mashup into the world as his own, when the idea of an acknowledged literary remix might well have been saleable in its own right.

    By way of example I would direct your attention to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (see which sold a lot of books in 2009/2010, was less imaginative in its interweaving (by the sound of it), yet had no copyright problems.

    For obvious reasons, I should add!

    I am not condoning the duplicity and fraud involved, but I do think it is something I would read, were I am able.

    Owen Kelly

  27. I wonder - was I the only one that copied and pasted parts of Rowan's answers into Google to see if any of them were plagiarized? :-)

  28. Does anyone else sort of feel sorry for Rowan?

  29. Great interview and interesting POV from QR, but honestly, at the end of the day this whole thing pisses me off on so many levels. Writing is a craft - it takes hard work, editing, studying those who have come before us, and talent.....each of us has to work at it constantly to improve ourselves (unless you're one of those gifted few who can just commit words to paper without the necessity of re-writing and editing). There are very few shortcuts - in life as well as in what we write. I don't think I'm being unsympathetic when I say that I don't care about his inner struggles about what he could and couldn't do re: plagiarizing parts of novels or the guild that was tearing him up inside.

  30. I know Jeremy Duns removed the "Spy vs Spy" q&a for a reason, but I have to admit that I'm extremely intrigued with the contents of this conversation. Is there any way we will get a chance to see this again in the future? If only to see for ourselves the responses quentin ruin borrowed from the more talented and insightful, and quite blatantly, more legitimate authors.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to give this "pre-caught with his unit in his red hands" conversation a good picking through. He said he was so desperate to impress the world, and more importantly to him, to impress you with this particular conversation. He hadn't been revealed for what he is yet, everything was going well for him. He must have felt bulletproof, and I'd love to see how this manifested itself in the interview he'd been "working" oh so hard to get. Innumerable would-be authors dream about getting a 2 book deal with a publisher like Little, Brown. The ones who love to write don't just want to get it, they want to earn it.

    I understand if you'd rather keep this conversation from ever seeing the light of a digital display every again. It's just that it sounds extremely fascinating to me.

    Thanks for your beautifully entertaining novels and blog. :D

  31. "the inside of my head is not a pretty place right now." Jesus! At least we know wha the guy sounds like when he writes in his own voice.

    Thanks for exposing Quentin Rowan's noxious self-jsutification. He reminds of those murder defendants at sentencing hearings who say "I wish I could take it back," "I wish I could give my life for hers," etc. -- just as sincere, and just as hollow.

  32. He certainly comes across as more than a little Rupert Pupkin... 'Better to be king for a day than a schmuck for a lifetime.'

  33. @Peter Rozovsky

    Comparing a plagiarist to a murderer seems harsh.

  34. "Comparing a plagiarist to a murderer seems harsh."

    He wasn't comparing the crime, he was comparing the (attempted) justification/explanation.

  35. Just as a response to Pelerin: I am sorry if I missed all those stolen passages you mention. This is no excuse, but it was a long time ago and much of it I tried to forget or block out after the deed was done. I promise you I'm really not trying to save face at this point. When I was writing Jeremy on Sunday, I mostly used Champion's blog as a reference because I don't have hard copies of those stories anymore. And obviously, I took so much, from so many sources that it's hard to keep it all straight. My thinking is muddled and I'm just trying to make all the proper apologies and find a way to live with myself. But let me apologize to you too for missing those passages, it was not a willed act of dishonesty, I promise. And just so you know, the self-published book those passages are in is being removed, cancelled, etc. I really am sorry and not trying to hide anything at this late stage. Cheers.

  36. It's not surprising, by the way, that readers responded well to Assassin of Secrets.

    It's my experience that books contain energy, and when you purposefully use words found in other books, you pull that energy into your own work.

    I think the energy comes from the author, and all her experiences and deliberations, but also it comes from the people working on the book: editors, artists, marketing, etc. I'd go so far as to say that people reading and responding to books can contribute to their energy as well.

    Just curious if this row makes anybody interested in trying a little plagiarism themselves? Or perhaps just some harmless found-word exercises? Not for publication, of course, but just to feel what it's like? In my experience, it can be quite powerful.


  37. Quentin, I was impressed by the candor expressed in your email interview with Jeremy and also by your willingness to join the conversation here in person, as it were. I have been, by turns, both critical and sympathetic, angry and, yes, envious. So many of us would have relished that two-book contract with Little, Brown--and would have made better use of it.

    Confession is good for the soul--and probably for the career. It's not over for you. Impatient though you may be, you are still young, and the last chapter of your story has yet to be written. You have, at least, made a name for yourself and risen above the din. However, as an ex-psychotherapist, I do recommend you get some help and do some work on yourself.

    On reflection, I think the worst thing you did was not the theft of intellectual property, which was bad enough, but deceiving your friends and colleagues. That sin merits the most serious penance.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  38. Jeremy, thank you for the work you've done getting this story out there, on behalf of the plagiarized writers and the rest of us who may someday be plagiarized. And thank you for handling Mr. Rowan firmly but gently. I find his confession to be really revealing and it strikes me as being honest, too. I can understand others' doubts that he was giving an honest account of his thoughts and motivations, but I've known two very self-destructive, insecure people in my life -- my father and my first husband -- and the thoughts and behaviors and self-image he described could have been their thoughts and behaviors and self-images. My father was a good person, and so is my ex. But they both had their demons, as we all do. Some people are better at fighting their demons off. Others don't know how to do it effectively.

    Quentin, I appreciate that you've taken the time to address the literature community about this situation. I appreciate your honesty in telling us all what happened, and how. It's not an easy thing to be honest about something like this.

    I'm concerned for you because you say the inside of your head is not a pretty place right now. I hope you're taking care of yourself and leaning on the support of the people who love you. That's what they're there for.

    Yeah, you screwed up, but now you're making that right, and it's appreciated.

    I hope you won't give up on writing. It's true that you will probably never be traditionally published again, but once you put some time into learning the craft and writing becomes not a source of anxiety to you but expression and joy, you may find that you have a lot to say, and that people are interested in hearing it. In your own words, of course, though I only mention that to mollify the people who mistrust you and not to remind you. I don't think you need to be reminded at this point.

    Hang in there, thank you for coming clean, and find a goal to work toward. It will get you through the rough times of recovering from your insecurities and your "addiction."

    I wish you the best.

  39. Stop talking to the thief. Stop giving him attention.

    I have no sympathy whatsoever for this flagrant, out-of-control copyright infringer. The reason "Pride and Prejudice" was fair game was that it was published in 1813 and therefore well out of copyright. I am astonished and appalled that anyone is trying to defend this out-and-out theft as a mash-up or a riff or a "tapestry" (AKA a new work) that happens to woven out of other's threads. Like, seriously?? I hope that the authors he ripped off (or their heirs and assigns) sue Little Brown and the mysterious Q for lots and lots of money. I believe federal copyright infringement actions carry treble damages. Woot!

    The people who've been stolen from usually don't file actions, however, because their own publishers know that they, too, are vulnerable to thieves and it's like a gentleman's agreement to pull the books and let it go. But every author who has written his or her own intellectual property ought to be lining up to condemn this thief, not being all understanding or conciliatory. Authors who have been ripped off before (Nora Roberts and Megan McCafferty come to mind) have written about how it feels to be the one whose work is stolen and it isn't pretty. They feel like robbery victims. Of course!

  40. Well of course the people who have been stolen from are the victims here, Julie. Nobody is saying that what he did is excused in any way just because he's expressing remorse.

    But he is a human being, and when I hear somebody say "the inside of my head is not a pretty place right now," I worry for a fellow human being's safety, even if he is guilty of theft.

  41. The enormity of the plagiarism is fascinating and I am transcribing the entire work with annotations identifying and citing the borrowed works.

    With all of the annotations worked into the text of Rowan's work, essentially doubling the length, how likely is it that my posting the complete project would find objection?

    I haven't seen "The Peking Target" mentioned anywhere yet, lifted for Page 86. (Playboy Press, 1982, Elliston Trevor and Adam Hill)

    Partial text:

    Assasin of Secrets:
    Chase moved on, crossing the corners of the roof and once kicking a flattened tin can and dropping immediately into a crouch clear of the roofline. Sometimes he heard voices below, the light fluting tones of ...

    The Peking Target:
    I moved on, crossing the corners of the roof and once kicking a flattened tin can and dropping immediately into a crouch clear of the roofline. Sometimes I heard voices from below, the light fluting tones of ...

    Do publishers undertake no due diligence at all? I mean, even junior high kids get their essays vetted. I don't necessarily blame the editor, but I certainly think that the industry has a problem. They don't have enough problems already selling themselves as 'gatekeepers' in today's market?

  42. Though corrupt, this is a brilliant work. It is simply stunning.

    I have been flipping through and ‘narrowing’ the span of pages with lifted content. Except for the very start, I have narrowed the gaps between plagiarized lifts to six pages and fewer. It appears likely the I will narrow that to less than five pages. Truly amazing is that the lifts are mostly word for word.

    From searching random snippets I have found word for word plagiarism on pages: 8, 14, 15, 20, 23, 27, 33, 34, 37, 42, 47, 53, 58, 62, 66, 71, 77, 81, 86, 89, 93, 96, 102, 106, 110, 116, 120, 124, 129, 134, 138, 142, 146, 151, 155, 158, 162, 168, 174, 179, 184, 186, 192, 194, 199, 204, 208, 212, 216, 222, 224, 229, 234, 239, 244, 249, 252, 256, 259, 263, 265, 270, 274 - out of 277 pages.

    I don't know if I've added to the title count, but may have found a few new ones. I don't know if anyone else is documenting the entire text.

    The first possibly new find was the one I mentioned in the post above, "The Peking Target". Also, now, "Death is Forever", "No Deals, Mr. Bond", [Gardner] - "Shelley's Heart", [McCarry] - "Doubleshot", "High Time to Kill", [Benson] - "Brotherhood of the Rose", [David Morrell,[Rambo]].

    So far:

    John Gardner
    License Renewed (1981), Nobody Lives For Ever (1986), Icebreaker (1983), For Special Services (1982), Scorpius (1988), Death is Forever (1992), No Deals, Mr. Bond (1987)

    Charles McCarry
    The Tears of Autumn (1974), Second Sight (1991), The Secret Lovers (1977), Christopher’s Ghosts (2007), Old Boys (2004), The Last Supper (1983), Shelley’s Heart (1995)

    Robert Ludlum
    The Prometheus Deception (2000), The Janson Directive (2002, posthumous)

    Raymond Benson
    Doubleshot (2000), High Time to Kill (1999)

    Elleston Trevor and Adam Hall
    The Peking Target (1982)

    David Morrell
    Brotherhood of the Rose (1984)

    That's six authors and twenty titles. I still haven't come across "Zero Minus Ten" and "Never Dream of Dying", or the lifts from Bamford and O'Brien, so that's at least four more titles and two more authors.


  43. Hi, all. I see he also ripped of Murphy's & Sapir's first Destroyer book (pp.29-31, 36-38), Adam Hall's Peking Target (pp. 85-87), and David Morrell's Brotherhood of the Rose (pp.37).

  44. Opps, sorry "Anonymous" - didn't see your post about Adam Hall.

    Also, locating the original passages of the Markham book, I discovered that a few other passages that made it into the Markham book were also "borrowed" by other writers.

    Robert Ludlum's The Janson Directive was copied by Patricia Waddell in 2 different fight sequences in her True Decption, 2007 (Ludlum, pp. 322-323 & 399; Waddell, pp. 31-32 & 257).

    John Gardner's Icebreaker was copied by Len Vorster in his Vestige of Evil, 2011 (Vorster, pp. 96; Gardner, pp. 157).

    Has anyone heard of these Vorster or Waddell instances? Again, like Markham (Rowen), why would they do it?

  45. Amazing, Darren. Will investigate. Len Vorster looks to me like he's self-published, but Patricia Waddell is with Macmillan and looks to be quite big in her field:

  46. Just looking for a few minutes, Waddell's novel appears to be massively plagiarized from The Janson Directive, often with whole sentences verbatim. Look at Chapter 22 of True Deception and then Chapter 6 of The Janson Directive. I somehow doubt these will be the only examples, and wonder if her whole book wasn't also stitched together, Assassin of Secrets-style.

  47. (A webpage mishap just occurred, so I apologize if this is a repost.)

    I see Waddell's True Deception also copies from Ludlum's The Rhinemann Exchange.

  48. It does look as if Waddell "writes" similar to Markham. In the very next paragraph after she borrows from Ludlum, she copies word-for-word from one of the Executioner books by Don Pendleton. Huh.

    I hate to think this, but if one were to start Googling passages from Ludlum & others, are we to find other authors borrowing from already published works?

    Very disapointing...

  49. Waddell's True Deception also steals from Ludlum's The Bourne Supremacy.

    For anyone keeping track, a couple of Markham's other sources are:

    P.D. Strachura, "The Ideology of the Hitler Youth In the Kampfzeit," 1973 and The Quiller Memorandum, by Adam Hall. also, has anyone mentioned The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry?

  50. Okay, I'll stop posting, unless anyone else is actually interested in this, but for now, add Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle to the Waddell list of misapropiations.

  51. Darren, I am very interested in this indeed. Three Ludlum novels, Ken Follett's The Eye of The Needle - one of the best-selling thrillers of the last few decades - and Don Pendleton? The brilliantly titled True Deception sounds to me like it's a precursor to Assassin of Secrets. I would be fascinated to know if she stole from anywhere else, and if it was stitched together in a similar way.

    Some commentary on Rowan's plagiarism noted the sheer idiocy of his stealing from authors like Robert Ludlum and post-Fleming Bond novelists. How could he possibly have hoped to get away with it? And yet it appears Patricia Waddell did get away it - at least, until now! - with True Deception being published by Macmillan in 2007. THe fact that you discovered this purely by chance, because she plagiarized some of the same passages as Quentin Rowan, is amazing. But it also makes me wonder how many other cases like this are out there. This makes, by my count, four cases that have come out as a direct result of Quentin Rowan:

    Lenore Hart - I followed from comments beneath articles about Quentin Rowan.

    Ross Leckie - I followed from a comment on The Guardian's article on Lenore Hart.

    Len Vorster and Patricia Waddell. You found both by searching for Quentin Rowan's sources, and discovering that they had plagiarized some of the same passages as him.


  52. Great work, Darren! I am beginning to lean toward Jeremy's suggestion this is only the tip. As you and the other sleuths shovel away, it looks like you may be digging into one enormous hill of buried literary excrement. I still wonder how these authors got away with it and how they thought they would. The Waddell case puts an interesting twist on it, because she borrowed from mainstream thriller writers but writes in the paranormal romance genre, which may partially explain the 4-year deception.

    The more I follow this story, the more angry I am with the publishers. I've published non-fiction with both Macmillan and Little, Brown but it seems they would rather publish and reward cheats than let indie manuscripts in the door.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  53. I continued my hunt for plagiarism-free pages. I went through open pages starting from Page 100.

    From Page 100 through the end, Page 278, I found word-for-word lifts on every page except 183 and 273. Minor lifts were rare. The overwhelming majority of pages (as in close to 100%) had significant chunks of borrowed text.

    I expect pretty much the same results in the rest of the first 99 pages. I truly didn't expect for Every Single Page to have word-for-word lifts. Now I'm disappointed that I didn't find anything on 183 and 273.

    It looks as though Google has dropped "Assassin of Secrets" from the index. Earlier in the week it was coming up in the results with every search. Today, not once.

    I've never seen so many Post-Its in a book. I think that I've created a piece of art.


  54. Thank you so much, Jeremy, for posting that email conversation with Rowan. I've been wondering all of those questions you ask him ever since this broke, and I honestly didn't think we'd ever know the answers. (Not that I'm convinced we know the WHOLE story, even now, but it's a start!) I'm also glad (and surprised) that Rowan had the guts to answer your questions.

    Please, Darren, keep posting your new finds. I'M certainly interested, and I suspect a lot of others are too. I really do wish I'd gotten my hands on a copy of this book just because I'd like to play detective myself, but I'm grateful to people like you who have it and are willing to do the searching! (Though I'd be really pissed off if I'd read the book in good faith before this all broke like Jeremy did.)

    What REALLY shocks me, though, are these new finds. It's unfathomable to realize that QR Markham may just be the tip o the iceberg when it comes to plagiarizing thrillers. I can't believe that his plagiarism has inadvertently netted four others so far! I picture a big boardroom at some sort of secret Plagiarists' Society, wherein Waddell and Hart and others puff cigar smoke at Rowan and castigate him for going too far. "You got too greedy, Rowan! Now you've ruined it all for the rest of us!"

  55. Update lifts to Every Single Page from 70 to the end of the book (excepting only 183 and 273).

    Has Daniel Silva's "The English Assassin" been cited yet? (The second of the 'Gabriel Allon' works.)

    Pages 78 - 79. It is the least word-for-word lift that I have found (though still plenty of it). After a few minutes of reading both there is no question in my mind at all.

    He converted the Silva's dialog to narrative. There are many exact phrases and the progression is quite easy to follow.

    From "When one is dealing with Swiss banks, especially a private . . ." on page 78 (Search Google Books for: "When one is dealing with a Swiss banker"), through ". . . in violation of Swiss banking laws and revealed the existence . . ." on page 79.


  56. I finished going through the Markham book & didn't find any more than what's already been listed.

    However, Blackwell, bravo to you. You found lifts on pages I wasn't able to. I don't have my physical library at hand right now, so I'm unable to find the passages from Gardner's Death Is Forever and No Deal, Mr. Bond, or Benson's Doubleshot. Might you let me know where at in the book they can be found? How did you locate the Silva passages?

    Except for a couple sentences here & there, I wasn't able to find lifts on pp. 5, 19, 39-47, 50-70, 75, 77, 80, 89-90, 103, 107-27, 129-31, 134, 144-45, 170, 183-84, 186-98, 201, 203-08, 212-19, 255, 265-66, 269, 273-78 (last page).

    I had some fun identifying Rowen's lifts, but I do hope it's an anomaly - I hope it's not required for future books I'd like to read & enjoy. That said, I plan to go through already published books, probably starting with Ludlum (he seems to be a favorite among plagiarists) and seeing if I can't find other copycats. Condon's Manchurian Candidateborrowing from I. Claudius, I just read about.

    If I come across anything new, I'll let ya'all know. Thanks, Jeremy and the rest of you for all your posts.


  57. Darrren -

    I will put together a file that addresses your last post. Probably later today. It won't be manageable as a post, so what I'll do is post it on one of my domains and link to it from here. It won't be complete, as I don't have all of the texts, nor do I know where the lifts are in many of the texts in order to get a complete picture. As unhappy as I have been with Google the last couple of years, I admit that Google Books made the searching possible. My post/link will begin to fill in the pages where you haven't found lifts yet.

    I haven't begun a transcription of the text-plus-annotations yet. It's been a pretty big job just sketching out the big picture.

    I finished the page-by-page pass last evening, and have burned several packs of Post-Its. I found notable lifts on Every Single Page except: 4, 9, 30, 54, 55, 183, 273. I was disappointed to find only a very minor lift on 188. I would have had to give that one a pass - the occasional borrowed phrase doesn't bother me - but it was not from a random text so it has to count in this case.

    A lot of this would have gone undetected, but the more we/I found, the more I knew that I would find. On most pages it only took a search or two to find something. If I couldn't find something, I looked harder knowing that it had to be there.

    Given that it appears publishers aren't even looking for plagiarism, I expect that there is quite a lot to be found. Cheating is rampant at the educational level. Do we really think that people get more ethical later on? In a climate where anything less than a 3.9 GPA is unacceptable, many people learn how to cheat out of 'necessity'. They get pretty good at it.

    What I'm finding most interesting at the moment is that although Rowan's publisher killed the book, I haven't heard a peep out of them otherwise. What about Lenore Hart's publisher? What about the publishers of the other cases that have recently surfaced? Maybe I've just missed it, but it feels deathly quiet. Are they all responding by slinking away?


  58. Correction - except pages: 5, 9, 30, 54, 55, 183, 273

  59. Darren (and everybody else) -

    Wow! Just Wow!

    I way over-promised when suggesting that I would fill in the pages where you haven't found lifted content yet. I'm remembering why I started this project not with a complete, annotated transcription, but with extensive note-taking instead.

    The job is enormous. Getting a grasp of what is happening is a pretty big job; properly documenting it is something else.

    I will have to switch to putting together notes for the pages that you need, rather than a full accounting.

    I did a full accounting for one page, 39, and, well, Wow! The entire page is from Raymond Benson's "High Time to Kill". All of it. The lift rolls right into page 40.

    I've put this page in a PDF to make it easier to deal with. Plus, I can color-code and do whatever formatting I might want later. I looked over the work pretty well, but it should be double-checked. I am distracted with not jut the obvious things, but with a new big thing.

    The new big thing is Tom Clancy's "Splinter Cell".

    My search for "ornamental gables, gilded facades" brings up only Benson and Clancy. There is much more than the four word phrase, which could be coincidental, or even acceptable as simply a borrowed word pairing.

    From the same section of Benson's text (see linked PDF), is a substantial word-for-word lift and further description that is really close to Benson's.

    "display of ornamental gables, gilded facades, medieval banners, and gold-filigreed rooftop sculptures."

    Lenore Hart would likely argue that if you are writing from a similar genre and describing very specific places, times, or events - that authors will naturally come up with very similar texts. Perhaps. I think that there is valid discussion to be had there.

    On the other hand, looking at just that paragraph or so from Clancy and putting it next to Benson - it doesn't look too good for him. I would need more before I knifed a guy's integrity, but it may not be too soon to start sharpening the knife. I think it's worth taking a closer look at his works. Pattern is proof.


  60. Before we go any further down that road, Benson wrote that Splinter Cell novel under the pseudonym David Michaels.

  61. Criminy. I went to see about buying a copy of Clancy's "Splinter Cell" and I see that byline credit goes to David Michaels, which seems to itself be a pseudonym used for the series. That doesn't change much; Clancy's name takes up half the cover and it's a very well known series. Still, it's a correction that I need to note.

  62. "Benson wrote that Splinter Cell novel under the pseudonym David Michaels."

    Benson. That's interesting. So it's a recycling? What's old is new again? I wonder how much?

  63. Blackwell, I haven't yet looked at your pdf, but wanted to quickly comment on recycling.

    This quote: "The white sheet of ocean spray burst up from the coral reef and appeared suspended, the dark blue waters of the Caribbean serving as a backdrop."
    - Robert Ludlum

    This (along with a couple of adjoining lines) appear in his The Bourne Ultimatum and *twice* in The Cry of the Halidon - the very first sentence of the book and later in chpt 35. I hadn't set out to find examples of recycling, but noticed this phrase repeated while looking for something else.

    Don't know if you have these yet, but: pp. 9 - the entire paragraph, "With a shout {...}" is Benson's Zer Minus Ten. So is the last paragraph, starting "She was on top now {...} but it was too late".

    pp. 9 - "He kept on, though, lunging {...} glimpsed the blond woman's eyes." - this is McCarry's Second Sight.

    pp. 30 - the entire page is Murphy's & Sapir's Destroyer #1 (actually begins pp. 29 "Brewster had worked out a plan {...}" until pp. 31 "{...'Ever think of joining CIA?'"


  64. Darren - I've put together a document that covers about half of the pages for which you haven't found lifts yet. Specifics are noted in the file:

    Regarding "Death is Forever", "No Deals, Mr. Bond", and "Doubleshot"

    Page 8, compare with - "Doubleshot"
    She looked up at him, her mouth parted. Her lower lip trembled a bit, and he could feel her shaking. Bond brought his mouth down on hers and roughly held her against him. She submitted with a soft moan, then opened her mouth to receive

    Page 57, compare with - "Death Is Forever"
    had run every kind of operation in the book, from dangles to false flags, deceptions and even the odd honey- trap. Its history was the history of the Cold War

    Page 71, compare with - "Death Is Forever"
    came face to face with death at exactly 4:12 pm on a chilly October Thursday outside the Frankfurter Hof Hotel in the heart of Frankfurt. In the last split second of his life, Puxley knew the

    Page 93, compare with - "No Deals, Mr. Bond"
    Neon and paper signs hung drunkenly at angles, sprouting to catch the eye, while the omnipresent food produced an amalgam of smells.

    Page 118, compare with - "No Deals, Mr. Bond"
    He did it the textbook way, leaving just enough time to be certain his targets were not friendly policemen — who were liable to be unfriendly if they thought he was some criminal intruder. By no stretch of the imagination were these men

    Page 119, compare with - "No Deals, Mr. Bond"
    A huge piece of the doorjamb woodwork, to his left, disintegrated, leaving, a large hole and sending splinters flying. The second shot passed between Bond and the jamb. He felt the crack of the bullet as it cut the air near his head

    Page 170, compare with - "Doubleshot"
    assuming a normal stride behind his prey as he headed for the latrine. When Clayton went in, Bond followed him. The man went into the smelly stall. Bond reached down and unsheathed the commando knife

    Page 173, compare with - "Doubleshot"
    Bond kicked, swinging his foot in the shape of a crescent moon. There was a discernable crack as he connected with Rodney's jaw. The man screamed and fell to the ground. Bond leaped over him and kept running.

    Page 179, compare with - "Doubleshot"
    ran to him and dragged him across to the side of the road. Bond was woozy, unable to fight back. He felt his shirtsleeve being unbuttoned and rolled over. There was the prick of a needle, and in a moment he

    There are probably more, but that's what I picked up in a pass through the notes.

    Regarding the Silva lift, I got a modest but clear hit on a search. Because it was a new author and text, I wanted something more and was able to access a good chunk of the text; everything in the relevant section. It took a couple of minutes, but once I realized that he was converting dialog to narrative all was immediately clear.

    Sorry again about not having the Clancy lift quite right. I was catching part of that (that he may be more of a brand than a writer on that) even as Jeremy was clarifying.

    The Benson part is very interesting. That's worth looking at some more also.


  65. With the focus on documenting all the plagiarism we may have lost sight of the person. Over at The Fix, Quentin Rowan has come clean with more of the story of his struggles with addiction--to alcohol, drugs, and theft of words. Anyone who has been there will identify with his downfall. In the perspective of AA, he seems to have hit bottom and now can begin the slow, lifelong climb out. We should all wish him well in his sobriety.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  66. Thanks for the link. Of course, only a very few people, at most, will ever know what parts of it all are true, be able to separate the self-serving from the sincere. It will make a good movie though.

    More complex, if less captivating, the bigger story is in the standards and practices of publishers.


  67. Possibly. But reread my post above, especially the excerpt from Assasin of Secrets starting 'With a shout...' Would you have spotted that that was plagiarized, really? I've read a *lot* of spy novels and didn't spot it. I've even read some of the novels Rowan plagiarized. Editors, agents, etc can't be expected to have read and memorized thousands of novels in a genre to spot this sort of thing. And it really is thousands. In hindsight, very easy to say they all should have read all of Charles McCarry's work and recognieed it at once, but they couldn't have predicted he would plagiarize him, or John Gardner or any of the others, rather than any of several dozen other writers. True Deception was published in 2007, and seems to have been constructed in much the same was as Assassin of Secrets, but it's not just the publisher who missed it - so did readers. It's only this case that has accidentally kicked it up.

    So I don't really agree that there's much to say here about the standards and practices of publishers. I think it's an argument for introducing plagiarism detection software, but there may be reasons that is impractical and it may not catch everything. I suggest resisting the temptation to rub our hands with glee at the publishers being caught out - perhaps I would say that, as I was as well! - and instead just admit the rather more banal truth, which is that the blame really only rests with the plagiarists.

  68. D_Blackwell, healthy skepticism is in order, and it may be a long time before most people will take Quentin Rowan at his word, if ever again. However, having worked with users and recovering addicts, I am inclined toward the more charitable interpretation, particularly regarding where he is writing. In my experience, the hardest people to fool with self-serving b.s. are in AA and in recovery themselves. Only time will tell, of course, but I hope he keeps writing and learns to write with his own words.

    And Jeremy, I think it is right to hold publishers responsible in part, even if some of the plagiarism might have been all but impossible to detect in advance. On the other hand, I find myself wondering if there is not more of this these days, even if the phenomenon has always been with us. The very technology that made the detective work possible facilitates the deception as well. And, as a professor, I certainly find the current generation's notion of acceptable copying far more "liberal" than a generation or two ago.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  69. 'I think it is right to hold publishers responsible in part, even if some of the plagiarism might have been all but impossible to detect in advance.'

    Hi Larry, please explain! :) If it's all but impossible to detect - and look at the case of Patricia Waddell, who plagiarized Robert Ludlum and Ken Follett, and who no *reader* has detected in five years - why are publishers responsible? I think they are legally responsible for it, but I don't see how they are to blame for this. The plagiarists are.

    When publishers are informed of plagiarism and refuse to act on it, then I fully agree that they take some of the blame.

  70. Jeremy, I said "SOME of the plagiarism might have been all but impossible to detect." Much of it could have been fairly easy to detect; it was discovered by knowledgeable fans within days. Shouldn't editors know as much about the genre they have been editing as their customers? Actually, the technology that has facilitated the digital detectives posting here is almost what the publishers need. In fact, I would predict that it will be less than a year before there is special fraud-detection software tailored to the needs of the publishing industry. From a software engineering and retrieval standpoint, the problem is simplified for genre books--where it is probably most needed. Apparently, publishing houses have been willing to spend big bucks for lawyers to do CYA duty and for software that optimizes marketing, inventory, and supply-chain management, but not for ensuring the basic quality of their products.

    Mind you, I am not blaming publishers--I did say responsible "in part"--but I am not absolving them either.

    The Wadell case is interesting from another standpoint, because she appears to have plagiarized from one genre to publish in another, what law enforcement refers to as "artful concealment," which constitutes a prima facie case for intent. Not to defend his action, but Rowan was not as devious and may even have wanted to be caught--he had stretched his bungee cord about as far as it would go without breaking.

    The publishers might be ethically responsible for what is called "due diligence," but are probably not legally responsible because Rowan and Waddell probably signed standard contracts indemnifying the publisher for any copyright violation and making them libel for defense costs if found in violation.

    Does that explain better where I am coming from?

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  71. What I mean is that I think Rowan is tangential to larger issues. It doesn't strike me that publishers handle very well the stuff that comes out by accident. I could be totally wrong, but that is my perception.

    In answer to your question; no, I would not have found any of it without a reason to look. (So long as these things remain unseen, then no problem.)

    Frankly, I hope that he keeps writing and has success. That is what pseudonyms and second chances are for. I'm not inclined to parse whether his current conduct is self-serving or sincere. Don't know, don't care. It will make a great movie, though.


  72. It does, thanks - but I still disagree. :) It wasn't discovered by knowledgable fans. It was discovered by *one* extremely knowledgable fan with a great memory. If you read the discussion on, you'll see several fans commented that that the excerpt read well, and was rather Bondish. Which, of course, it was. But one commenter, 'AMC Hornet', spotted it, and by his own admission later in the discussion his 'OC tendencies' paid off.

    You've missed all my points about this in my last reply, and indeed in the post above. Many have, I think partly because people like to see failure from big publishers. No? Honestly?
    Let's put it in context again, for clarity. I'm a very knowledgeable James Bond fan. That's not a boast - in some circles the opposite! - but fact. I've read all of Ian Fleming's books. A lot of Bond fans haven't. I've also read lots of Fleming's work that is barely known: for example, I own the Kemsley Manual of Journalism. I've watched all the Bond films, unearthed a screenplay of The Diamond Smugglers by Jon Cleary, another of Casino Royale written by Ben Hecht, found draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel, interviewed John Gardner and Raymond Benson, and watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate... You get the idea, I hope. I'm not Fellow of Bond Studies at Cambridge, but I think it would be hard to argue I'm not a knowledgeable Bond fan. I’m also a huge Quiller fan. I've read all 19 of Adam Hall's Quiller novels, some of them a few times, and have done plenty of research into them, too. (I also recommended these novels to Quentin Rowan.) I'm also widely read in the spy genre, and have written about it at length both on this blog and in the press, and am a published spy novelist, writing a series of thrillers set in the Cold War.

    I didn't spot this.

    In hindsight, it’s rather easy to say it should have been spotted. Once again, read the extract above. And consider how many spy novels have been published in recent decades - Licence Renewed, which I’ve read, was published 30 years ago.
    So, yes, editors should be knowledgeable about the genres they work in. But they can't possibly have the same knowledge as all the readers of those genres *combined*. Editors can’t predict which authors someone might plagiarize, so to stop it in the spy genre, by your logic, they’d not just have to have read all of the novels he did steal, but also all of Peter O'Donnell, Donald Hamilton, Desmond Bagley, Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsyth, Helen MacInnes, Dennis Wheatley, Geoffrey Jenkins, Eric Ambler, Greene, Deighton, Littell, Clancy, Morrell... and so on. Just in case. Thousands of novels. And if you'd read all of those novels, you’d then have to remember them to spot it.
    So I think there was always a good chance that once the book was published he'd get caught, because in the sea of knowledge among readers *someone* was likely to spot it. He could have been unlucky early on, and I could have happened to have realized a particular scene felt too familiar and looked it up, or his agent or editor could have happened to be very familiar with one of these novels or essays. But it's not their fault - or mine - that it didn't happen that way. I've read tons of spy novels, but I haven't read and memorized hundreds of them, and I don't think it's reasonable to expect editors or indeed anyone else to have done. This is hindsight, and in some cases schadenfreude: I've seen plenty of comments online about how amusing it is to see a publisher get egg on their faces.

    Sorry if this seems heavy-handed, but I'm bored of seeing this argument pop up everywhere. It's not the publishers' fault that they failed to spot lifts from the thousands of books previously published in the genre. It's just Quentin Rowan's fault.

  73. 'From a software engineering and retrieval standpoint, the problem is simplified for genre books--where it is probably most needed.'

    Also disagree with this. Rowan had two short stories published in the Paris Review, which is the most prestigious literary journal in the world, and from the sheer number of authors he plagiarized for them it's clear they would have been stitched together in much the same way as Assassin of Secrets. The Raven's Bride by Lenore Hart is a literary novel. Jacob Epstein's Wild Oats was also a literary novel: it's known that Epstein plagiarized dozens of parts from Amis' The Rachel Papers, but if someone looked closer and also found passages lifted from other literary fiction, it would hardly be a surprise. As many literary novels don't have straightforward narrative plots and are often elusive, abstract and non-episodic, I suspect, if anything, it may in fact be significantly easier to plagiarize literary than genre fiction. I'd also argue, and indeed essentially do in the post above, that Assassin of Secrets worked because it strung together tropes of spy fiction in a recognizably post-modern way, ie it was more akin to literary fiction.

    Again, I've seen this position of yours echoed in newspaper articles and on blogs, but I think it is totally bogus, and often stems from snobbery about genre rather than any coherent logic.

  74. Thanks, Jeremy, for taking the time for such a thoughtful and thorough reply. I got it. And your point based on your own expertise is well-taken. (You casually rattle off names of more authors than I even know!) So, if you don't believe there is enough responsibility to spread around, okay.

    I do think that there is a phenomenon in publishing as a whole today that, if not in part culpable for the Waddells and Rowans of the publishing process at least does not help the situation. It is now clear that Rowan did not intend his work to be a wry, post-modern, deconstructivist commentary on the genre, but intended or not, it is. It suggests that formulae can fly, even if from an unknown. Add the reading public, who are addicted to their formula fixes. Throw in independent publishing for lowering the standards while increasing the hunger for anything that tastes like the real thing. Heck, turn the spotlight on a generation that increasingly thinks the rules apply to everyone but themselves.

    Maybe editors and publishers and reviewers are just too eager to pounce on something that looks like a duck before smelling or tasting it carefully.

    Your main point, which I wholeheartedly endorse, is that Quentin is the one who plagiarized; it's his sin. But as one whose work (as an organizational consultant, a psychotherapist, and an author) has always been focused on what makes human beings tick and what accounts for how they behave with each other, I am also interested in the messier question of how this happened? How did it come about? What were all the contributing forces? And how is it that there now seems to have been so much of it? No drama is ever just one person's story. I think in systems, and it's the whole system that I am seeking to understand. That's far more interesting to me than the simpler matter of who is at fault.

    So, just to be clear for all those reading this who might want things spelled out in simple terms, I DO NOT blame the publishers or editors and I DO NOT excuse or condone Rowan's plagiarism. That does not stop me from looking beyond the obvious or wanting to understand more about the what and how of the problem.

    Thank you again for your role in helping to sort this all out.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  75. Larry, thanks for the reply. There's a lot I disagree with there, too, but let's start with this part:

    'It is now clear that Rowan did not intend his work to be a wry, post-modern, deconstructivist commentary on the genre, but intended or not, it is. It suggests that formulae can fly, even if from an unknown. Add the reading public, who are addicted to their formula fixes.'

    Well, no, it really doesn't. Assassin of Secrets used - in fact stole - dozens of conventions from the spy genre, but it is (or was) not a formulaic 'novel', partly because it contains so many of those conventions. If it suggests forulae can fly, how do you explain his Paris Review stories, which were literary fiction, stole from tons of different authors, and were only spotted when this all came about? Does that not say something, then, about the formulae of literary fiction? How about my other examples, which are full-length novels: The Raven's Bride by Lenore Hart and Wild Oats by Jacob Epstein. Both literary novels.

    There's a lot more I could say but perhaps I could, very gently and in the warmest possible terms, suggest you start by scrolling to the top of this screen and reading my essay in full, and carefully? Because you clearly haven't, and I think it might show you why the idea that this somehow shows up the spy genre doesn't fly.

  76. Jeremy, I think you misunderstand my position, but that is probably my fault. I was too terse when I should have said more and verbose when I should have been more succinct. I plead not guilty when it comes to snobbery; I write genre fiction myself--techno-thrillers to be exact--and think that good writing can be found within the genre as much as anywhere else. Most of my reading for pleasure has also always been genre fiction of one sort or another.

    I was merely trying to make a fairly narrow technical point. For any well-defined genre, the corpus to be searched is a subset of the entire published body and it becomes easier to extract patterns and define an inference engine to recognize probable cases of plagiarism. It's just a matter of statistics. That's what I was alluding to.

    As to whether there is more or less plagiarism in genre fiction than literary fiction, I really don't know. All either of us could do is speculate. The tropes of genre fiction certainly constitute a temptation, but that does not mean there are more sinners.

    I am a fellow thriller writer, Jeremy, a friend. I am sorry if it appears we are on opposite sides here, because I don't think we are.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  77. Larry, no need to apologize! I'm happy to have the discussion. But really, I think it would help it if you read my essay above, Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets. Just scroll up. :) Because I have addressed several of these points there, I think.

    You write that spy fiction is a 'well-defined genre' and that as a result 'the corpus to be searched is a subset of the entire published body and it becomes easier to extract patterns and define an inference engine to recognize probable cases of plagiarism. It's just a matter of statistics.'

    First of all, I don't think spy fiction is a well-defined genre. It's enormously varied. For example, is The Secret Agent by Conrad spy fiction? Ashenden by Maugham? If you tried to find similarities between Tunc by Lawrence Durrell, Cockpit by Jerzy Kosinski, The Russia House by John le Carré, Declare by Tim Powers and The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming, I think you would struggle, mightily. There are spy novels that blend conventions from literary fiction, science fiction, crime, romance - thousands on thousands of combinations.

    And this applies to all genres. Why do you think the spy fiction genre is more clearly defined than any other? I don't see why it would be, but I'd be interested to hear if you have a concrete way of looking at that.

    'As to whether there is more or less plagiarism in genre fiction than literary fiction, I really don't know. All either of us could do is speculate. The tropes of genre fiction certainly constitute a temptation, but that does not mean there are more sinners.'

    I didn't say it did! You said that it was the other way round, remember? :) Your point was that 'the problem is simplified for genre books--where it is probably most needed'. I think the very lack of conventions in literary fiction mean it *could* be just as easier, if not easier, to do this with literary fiction. And I've given you several examples, none of which you've responded to.

    But again, I really hope you'll read my essay above. I find it slightly frustrating to have spent a lot of time trying to get down my thoughts on this in a coherent way, only to argue them through in the comments with someone who hasn't read my initial arguments. No hard feelings intended - it's just a bit silly to continue the conversation when you haven't read the start of it.

  78. Jeremy, I read your essay when you first posted it; perhaps I should read it again if I can make the time. It must be frustrating to think you have already covered something when some bozo like me comes along and says something that looks like he didn't realize the matter was settled. Sorry.

    But please, I was only referencing technical issues, not making a philosophical point about the diversity or narrowness or the relative value or legitimacy of spy fiction. In an absolute sense, it might be hard to define exactly what books fall in the subset 'spy fiction'--there will be always be boundary cases that are ambiguous and arguments over whether a particular case is 'real' spy fiction, but from a technological standpoint those issues are not highly important. In simple terms, my statement amounts to: Not all published fiction is spy fiction, therefore searching for plagiarism within spy fiction is easier and faster. That's all. But, please, this was never intended to be more than just an aside about the technical feasibility of semi-automating checking for plagiarism. I can assure you that even for all published works it is rapidly becoming far more feasible than one might think.

    We really seem to be talking past each other, and I am very sorry for that. When I wrote 'but that does not mean there are more sinners.' I was not implying that you said that or held that position, only trying to make clear my point (which obviously I failed at).

    I haven't responded to your examples because I have no quarrel with them and nothing to add. It is quite possible that we are in violent agreement but just do not recognize it. :-)

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson

  79. Larry, again, no need to apologize or worry in any way, and thanks for reading the original post. And you're no bozo. But... I think you're changing your points here, aren't you? You wrote above:

    'From a software engineering and retrieval standpoint, the problem is simplified for genre books--where it is probably most needed.'

    I'll just make two points. Firstly, 'genre books' statistically is surely absolutely mammoth, encompassing everything from crime to science fiction to espionage to romance and much more besides. If you're talking about cutting down the sheer number of books to run through software, this seems a very odd point to make. Surely 'cookery books by celebrities' would be statistically a lot easier to detect plagiarism in than 'genre fiction'!

    Secondly, I still don't see why the software 'is probably most needed' in genre fiction. Can you explain?

  80. I'm assuming you've seen already, but if not: