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Unlike Alice Hoffman’s new novel (see blog post from June 29th), The Devil’s Company (on sale July 7th! That’s tomorrow!) received very favorable treatment from my hometown newspaper, The San Antonio Express News. Reviewer David Hendricks says “The Devil’s Company,” like [A Conspiracy of Paper] and [The Whiskey Rebels] is more than just a finely written mystery. Liss injects thoughtful discussion of issues that should resonate in the best university business courses. Corporate ethics at the British East India Company appear to resemble those of Wall Street companies this decade…. Liss accomplishes this within an engaging, intelligent and entertaining narrative that also illuminates London’s 18th-century lifestyles and urban landscapes. The dialogue is sharply turned, and the humor is deliciously subtle.” For more about how swell the new book is, read the entire review here. As a bonus, Hendricks manages to make it through an entire article without talking about how much he hates The Ethical Assassin. I’m pleased to see he is moving on.  For his sake.

But this was not the only one I received this weekend. Ever since Vikings founded the city of Houston in the late 8th century, no institution has expressed its opinions and culture as consistently as Examiner.com. It was there that Faith Acker, on our nation’s birthday, chose to post a review of my first novel, a mere nine and half years after its publication.  She calls her work, “Liss’ A Conspiracy of Paper: A Conspiracy of Pompus Drivel.  Perhaps not the best thing to read to learn the correct spelling of the word pompous, it is a pretty good essay if you want to know how much this woman hates my first book.

Hjalnek, founder of Houston

Hjalnek, founder of Houston

Since it has been a busy time for writers striking back at their reviewers (see blog posts from June 29th and July 2nd), I thought I might say a few words about Ms. Acker’s analysis of my work. In may ways, I sympathize with Alice Hoffman and Alain de Botton in their rage against what they perceive as unfair reviews. I, myself, have received what I thought of as unfair reviews, and they are pretty annoying. But Ms. Acker’s piece is not the sort of review you get in a newspaper or magazine which actually attempts to provide some kind of thoughtful analysis (perhaps incorrectly) of where a book has gone wrong. Certainly, I respect the right of people to not like a book by me – or anyone else. Taste is a mysterious thing, and novels are rarely good or bad in any empirical sense.

What bothers me about this review is that it is more like the kind of unhinged email I get once in a while from readers who are clearly furious with me for having written a book they did not like. Some readers take the existence of a book they don’t enjoy as a personal insult.  That appears to be the case here.  Of Benjamin Weaver, the novel’s protagonist, whom many readers actually like, Acker writes, “Liss has created a loathsome and wordy imbecile to write this interminable first-person narrative…. Overall, the book’s narrator writes in the tone of a bad bully who can’t understand why his attempts at humour [sic – though only in America] are overlooked by his victims, and it is, indeed, the reader rather than Weaver’s opponents who most suffer at the hands of this poor excuse for a protagonist.”

Faith Acker, from her profile

Faith Acker, from her profile

Ouchie. She has hurt my feelings. Acker provides no email address, but you can leave comments after the post. I am not suggesting anything. I’m just, you know, saying.

4 Responses to “”

  1. Andy says:

    More magic from Ms. Acker:

    “Why can’t Cormac McCarthy use quotes? I cannot for the life of me figure out who’s talking!”- from her review of The Road

    “This Iago fellow seems entirely too pleased with himself… why does he have to narrate his lonely plotting? I can figure out what’s going on, I’m not stupid!”- from her review of Othello

    “Boooorrrriiingggg”- from her review of Moby Dick

    “You don’t honestly expect me to believe they fought in the streets for that long, do you?”- from her review of the Sumerian epic, Gilgamesh

  2. Gary D Kaplan says:


    MAZEL-TOV with tomorrows release!

  3. […] The Devil’s Company, which appears on bookstore shelves, virtual and real, today. As he points out at his personal blog, TDC (wait a minute…which book are we talking about) has already garnered praise from the […]

  4. Faith Acker says:

    Dear Mr. Liss,
    Many thanks for taking the time and energy to write a review of my review. Some of your criticisms are well-founded (I am a poor typist and frequently leave a typo or two, and often use British spellings as well). I certainly don’t take the existence of a book I don’t enjoy as a personal insult, although texts as verbose as _A Conspiracy of Paper_ often leave me frustrated by their seemingly needless length. I did find your novel a trifle tedious, but mainly because (as you have quoted) the main character’s pompous voice constantly irked me. On the other hand, he is certainly a memorable character, which is quite an accomplishment in this day and age. I sense from your blog that you fell fully into the narrative voice you created for _A Conspiracy_ (pardon the abbreviation) and that your writing style, at least here, is a little more fluid, so I will be interested to see which style is more prevalent when next I read a book by you.
    Good luck with your current book!
    I don’t believe Examiner.com has the facilities to post its reviewers’ contact information online (I apologise if I have been misinformed), and I’m not overly fond of posting mine in public forums for purposes of spam, but perhaps you will be able to access it through the reply function on this blog if you desire to continue a dialogue or provide your readers with additional methods of contacting me.

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