How Many Crime Writers Are Internet Trolls?
The rapid expansion of blogs, online discussion forums and comment threads in recent years has revolutionised social networking and how people connect with each other throughout the world. But it has also given birth to a new phenomenon, the Internet Troll. The definition of an internet troll is still vague, but Wikipedia describes a troll as ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.’ A troll can be, depending on your opinion, a foul-mouthed timewaster or a mischievous prankster. As blogging has become almost obligatory for any crime writer who wants to promote their work, there have arisen a number of interesting cases of crime writers who have resorted to a bit of trolling. Let me start with a comparatively mild example, and one that assumes you can be a troll on your own website. James Ellroy has been known as the Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction for years, and this persona has served him well in interviews through which he has often created and refined myths surrounding his work. Ellroy has never used a computer in his career– or even a typewriter. He writes everything in longhand and this is then typed up by his assistant. His Facebook page, however, is very lively, and Ellroy often sends messages through his assistant to post on there. Shortly before the publication of Blood’s A Rover, Ellroy posted this ‘status update’:
Achtung, Fuckheads! We are now one month and eleven days away from the publication of my greatest masterpiece, “Blood’s A Rover”. It will hit stores on September 22, published by Alfred A. Knopf. It is written in panther pus, napalm, jaguar jizz and blood!!!!! Be prepared to uproot your entire lives when this book makes the scene!!!!! (Hat-tip to J. Kingston Pierce)
Those who are unfamiliar with the Demon Dog persona might be willing to dismiss Ellroy as a neo-nazi on the basis of these remarks. But his outrageousness is deliberately exaggerated to provoke shock in the reader, and hone his reputation as America’s most brilliant and out-there crime novelist. Of course, edgy humour only works when you’re very careful to get the tone right. One example of trolling which came back to haunt a crime writer was when Philip Kerr, author of the Bernie Gunther novels, wrote a scathing review on Amazon of Allan Massie’s The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family that Shaped Britain. Kerr was motivated by revenge as Massie had written two bad reviews of Kerr’s recent novels. He was civil enough to confess to this at the end of the review:
Good manners and honesty prompt me to mention that Alan Massie has reviewed my last two novels with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. For the first review I say good luck to him. If he didn’t like my book, then that’s fair enough. He’s entitled to his opinion which is that I can’t write for toffee. Maybe I can’t.
He should however, have excused himself from reviewing me a second time. In my opinion that’s bad manners. I’m of the opinion that authors should avoid reviewing the books of their peers and, usually, I stick to this principle, but I’ve made a special exception in Mister Massie’s case. . .
Kerr wrote the review on the Amazon page probably because no newspaper would have accepted something so overtly bitter. Perhaps he thought he could vent his anger on Amazon as the review might get buried amongst the thousands of other online reviews (it has since been taken down), but when the Telegraph broke the story, Kerr looked very foolish.
These are two examples of crime writers engaging in a bit of trolling, although if readers know of any others please let me know. Perhaps crime writers are suited to trolling because of their understanding of mystery narratives and the desire to embrace new forms to create mystery and mischief in the online age, but as with the case of Kerr, we should remember that not every famous literary troll will be well received.