A brief, tedious
and humourless catalogue
of criteria for a ideal and
acceptable review of
Translation : Anna Reissert
Reviewing a crime novel puts it in its correct place, historically, systematically
and in terms of its relative quality.
The reviewer of a novel should seriously engage with his subject; with
passion, commitment, and with reasons. But that is not enough. The writer
of a review must be a master of his metier. He should have command of
one or two languages, and firstly of his mother tongue.
He must be familiar with all the important contexts of the work, or failing
that, he must know where to locate them. He must have a clear understanding
of crime literature, general literature and other relevant areas of
knowledge. He must be acquainted with genre literature in all its different
forms within a wide range of media.
He must be able to establish his
own catalogue of criteria. He must have standards.
He needs to understand
that this is all in constant flux: a ceaselessly evolving system without
any fixed certainties. In a word, transcendentally rootless.
avoid dogma, but equally shun boundless relativism. He must use his knowledge
and apply it to the novel he is reviewing.
He must understand reality. Crime literature
only exists in part as literature. The other part derives from the world
in which it is set. The reviewer needs to be familiar with this world,
practically and from his own experience. What there is, and what there
is is not; what can happen, and what is not guaranteed – in short, he
needs total awareness.
Crime literature deals with crime, lawbreaking and violence. The reviewer
needs to be familiar with these fields. He needs to become fully informed,
and that involves some work. Otherwise he may believe any rubbish that
he is told, or dismiss reality as rubbish. At worst he may snort with
indignation over real facts, when they are portrayed as sensational or
Crime literature deals with violence as a form of interaction between
humans. It makes sense, therefore, to have an understanding of human nature.
This again has to do with one's experience of life, and a reviewer of
crime novels should have experienced more of it than most people. That
is also a question of age.
An overwhelming love of irony, an abhorrence of laughter and a lack of
understanding of the universal forms of humour do not create a terribly
good critic of crime novels.
Because of the themes of crime novels, all
of which without exception have political implications, reviewers can,
should, and indeed must examine their ethic, moral, ideological and
political foundations. And I mean foundations – not just superficial
assertions, statements, or so-called declarations of intent. No matter
what the trend of thought is at the time, morality is one criterium
of crime literature. It may of course be complex, because there are
endless steps to negotiate - but there is no way around.
How a crime novel deals with realities is a measure of its quality, just
like its mise en scene . They are linked together. If not, there
is a problem with the novel, or with the review, because it cannot reconcile
A good review will never follow the dictates
of the publisher or those of any other third party. If a book is innovative,
exciting, important, thrilling, entertaining, charming, devilish or
whatever else; the reviewer must bring this out, giving reasons. What
other sources say about it – public
authorities, the Pope, the Frankfurter Rundschau (left-liberal
daily newspaper), advance publicity or crime fiction junkies, is unimportant.
The reviewer has to be able to identify real quality as well as pretentious
nonsense. It is important to think logically. creatively, analytically
and clear-mindedly. Independent thought is vital.
A review is not a recommendation to buy. A review is a debate with the
text. It reaches a reasoned judgment, which is open to discussion.
Even a recommendation to purchase a novel must give its reasons. Gushing
praise may be acceptable, but it must be justified.
Any review that spends most of its time re-telling the novel should not
be published. And any review that, after recounting the whole plot, ends
with a judgment on the grounds of personal taste should be banned straight
Reviewers must not try too hard to win the sympathy of the reading public.
Those who write honest reviews can become very unpopular. That is absolutely
fine. Critics are not everybody's darling.
All this is not only true for crime novels,
but it is especially the case with them, because crime novels are Janus-faced – one
face looks towards artistic creativity and the other towards reality.
This is the distinctive characteristic of crime novels, and what makes
them special. A crime novel review that ignores this fact is worthless.
One should be able to enjoy reading the review of a crime novel, if it
is well done. It should be wittily written, and show warmth, enthusiasm,
commitment, a sense of urgency and understanding; or alternatively, demonstrate
anger, loathing and horror.
This whole catalogue is trivial, obvious, arrogant, vain, self-justifying,
tautologous, pretentious, gossipy, exaggerated, pompous, dispensable,
lacking in practical relevance, top-heavy and abstract, almost as if
it was a review.
© 05/2007 Thomas Wörtche