7 smart and sassy crime fiction writers dish on writing and life.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Critic Oline H. Cogdill on Mystery Reviews — the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Oline H. Cogdill
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: A few months ago, when it was my week on Jungle Reds, I had Macavity-winning novelist Daniel Friedman as a guest. If you recall, Dan's the author of the Macavity-winning Don't Ever Get Old and now the sequel, Don't Ever Look Back. Dan talked about reviews and we all had a lot of opinions on the comments page.
And so, to continue the conversation, I'm delighted to introduce Raven Award-winning book critic Oline H. Cogdill, one of the mystery and thriller community's most respected professional reviewers. Her bio speaks for itself:
Oline H. Cogdill reviews mystery fiction for Mystery Scene magazine, the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Publishers Weekly, McClatchy Features Wire and the Associated Press. Her mystery fiction reviews appear in more than 300 newspapers and publication sites worldwide. She blogs twice a week atmysteryscenemag.com. She has received the 2013 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the 1997 Pettijohn Award from the Sun Sentinel and the 1999 Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing by the American Crime Writers League. Oline was a judge for three years for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category. And now, today's guest Red, Oline H. Cogdill! OLINE H. COGDILL: I know that for me journalism was as much of a calling as it was a career. And I feel the same way about reviewing mystery fiction. It’s practically a mission to me to introduce people to exciting crime fiction. The newspaper industry certainly has changed as has the nature of reviewing. What hasn’t changed for me, though, is the way I approach reviews. It is still a labor of love. I love crime fiction genre -- I have, ever since I was about 10 years old. I first began reviewing mystery fiction back in 1990 when book sections seemed to have plenty of space for myriad reviews. The past 24 years have brought so many changes—the rise of Amazon reviews, sites such as Goodreads, and so many bloggers it’s impossible to keep track of them all. I think it comes down to one simple question—who do you trust?
Trustworthy:I don’t trust any review I see on Amazon because too many people have an agenda there. I haven’t made up my mind about Goodreads as I see some people give very thoughtful opinions while others seem to use it as a forum to be nasty. At the same time, I know that several bloggers are quite committed to offering insightful reviews of novels, and those bloggers deserve our attention. I am a professional critic. I am paid for my reviews by the publications and wire services for which I write.
Who do we review for:I don’t write my reviews for the authors or the publishers. That my reviews may help an author’s career is a great happenstance. I write reviews for the readers, to help a reader make an informed decision about a book they should buy, read or check out of the library.
Positive vs negative: I don’t shy away from giving negative reviews, but I prefer to give positive ones. That has nothing to do with not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. It has all to do with me wanting to enjoy myself. If I am choosing a book to review, I may read a chapter or two of 10 or even 20 novels before I decide which one to review. I want to tell readers what they should read, not what they should avoid. That doesn’t mean I shy away from giving a negative review. I have to be honest.
Oline’s Rules of Reviewing: I have some simple rules that I try to follow with each review. 1) Don’t give away any surprises. The less said about a plot, the better. It is infuriating to read a review in which the critic seems to take great delight in spoiling plot points. 2) See beyond the plot. How does this novel work in the author’s series and in terms of the genre. 3) Be fair, be honest, be tough, but don’t take cheap shots. When a reviewer becomes so in love with their own voice, then it’s time to close the book on that career. 4) Never use the phrase “transcend the genre.” I hate this phrase. It is not a compliment, but an insult to the genre. The genre is capable of so much. Crime fiction is the social novel of today, a mirror to our society, our legal system, our way of dealing with societal issues and crime and punishment. I might write that a novel expands the genre or uplifts it. But if you see transcend the genre in one of my reviews, I didn’t put it there. SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: OK Reds and readers, we have a professional reviewer and mystery maven on hand to answer all of our questions. Do you have a new perspective on reviewing? On professional reviewing? Will you use Oline's rules? Why or why not? Please tell us in the comments! Oline will be dropping in to answer all your questions.