There’s been quite a recent buzz about QR Markham’s recently published book “Assassin of Secrets,” but for all the wrong reasons — it’s apparently plagiarized from a blend of a dozen spy fiction authors including James Bamford, Charles McCarry, and Graeme Greene.
The author, whose real name is Quentin Rowan, has expressed profound regret, and explains in a comment that it’s all a result of wanting too much, too soon. In fact, he’s never really been into writing his own material, as plagiarism checks on his previous work also show plenty of evidence of cut-and-pasting. Even his pen name is borrowed: “Markham” was Kingsley Amis’ nom de plume when he wrote his James Bond novel, Colonel Sun.
The publisher, Little, Brown, is in the stew as well, as this is the second book in five years they’ve published that has been found to be largely copied — the first was How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” by Kaavya Viswanathan, which was plagiarized from several books by Megan McCafferty. Funnily enough, “Assassin of Secrets” is apparently quite a good read — after all, the text has an excellent pedigree — and the copies that were sold before it was recalled are going for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Putting aside the outlandish idea that Little, Brown actively seeks out scandal by publishing books it knows to be plagiarized, it seems extraordinary that nobody noticed before it hit the shelves. Could this result from insufficient attention by overworked editors? Or is it genuinely very hard to detect plagiarism just by reading through a book?
Which leads me to wonder, Why don’t book publishers routinely run their authors’ manuscripts through plagiarism checking software?
A check for plagiarism seems like a trivial step for a publisher who will ultimately invest a huge amount of resources. In the long run, checking for plagiarism may save a great deal of embarrassment and lost revenue. Is it because the plagiarism detection software companies have focused on academic publishing and not the trade market? Or is it because there are cultural differences in attitude towards plagiarism between academic publishing and other writing domains?
Little, Brown did recall all copies of both books, which isn’t a laissez-faire response — but perhaps this story shows there is less willingness to uncover plagiarism committed by the authors of fiction as opposed to the authors of fact.