That's one view expressed by Judge Richard Posner, legal scholar, prolific author, and long-time judge on the United States 7th Circuit Court of of Appeals, in his excellent work A Little Book of Plagiarism (Pantheon 2007), pp. 43-48.
Concealment is at the heart of plagiarism," Posner writes: "The plagiarist does not play fair," Id. at 17
I think not.
Posner keys in on Margaret Truman, the late daughter of President Harry Truman. Her cozy mysteries set in Washington, D.C. (Murder at the National Cathedral, etc) have long been rumored to have been written by someone else. Truman denied the assertion until her death. Posner casts his lot with those who doubt that being a President's daughter is a qualification for a mystery writer.
|No matter how good an impersonator, it's NOT Elvis|
In fact I hope Patterson himself is not writing these books. I've read two - okay, 1 1/2 - and they are just hideous. The second was so bad that I broke my personal rule and did not finish it.
My opinion seems to be shared by many. An Amazon forum excoriates the quality of "co-written" Patterson books. (Click here for the link to the Amazon forum)
It is even more evident with the recent Robert Parker books. I absolutely love the Spencer books. But Mr. Parker died in 2010. His estate hired a writer Ace Atkins to continue the Spencer books and Michael Brandman to continue the Jesse Stone series. I've not read any of the new stuff, and both Atkins and Brandman are successful in their own right. But they aren't Robert Parker. The new books are being published with covers that in huge type tout them as ROBERT PARKER's, with the actual author in small type at the bottom of the cover.
So who is hurt by this marketing? According to Posner, its not the readers. They get a book which is what they bargained for.
I disagree with Judge Posner on this point. When you plunk down $25 for a James Patterson hardcover, that's often not what you are getting. Had I spent my own money (instead of checking out the book from the library) for The 4th of July, I would have felt ripped off. This was not a taut thriller with the same skill in plot development, tension, and rich characters that you find in Kiss the Girls and other works clearly written by Patterson. Instead, it was soap-opera styled drivel with cardboard characters, irrational motivations and strained plot devices, set in the legal system of which the author clearly was ignorant.
Posner suggests, and I agree, that the real damage from this type of misrepresentation is to other authors. Across the nation, thousands of authors are working hard, trying to get published, or if published, trying to get their works noticed. They are the ones whose works are being shoved off publishers lists, being buried on back shelves, and not being reviewed. Meanwhile, "brands" such as Patterson and Parker are given front shelf space.
There are ways to fairly deal with this situation. The James Bond books have continued on since shortly after Ian Fleming's death in 1964. The most recent Bond book was written by noted thriller author Jeffrey Deaver, and Fleming's name does not even appear on the cover. Other post-Fleming Bond novels identify only the real author, or identify the author "writing as Ian Fleming", but all in print at least as large as Fleming's name.
The publishers of Patterson, Parker and others may not be dealing in misrepresentation, but its close. And they certainly are not playing fair, either with the reading public or with other authors.
It's not quite plagiarism. It's not quite fraud. But from where I sit, its not quite legitimate either.
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