QR Markham's plagiarized spy thriller didn't stop being good when he was caught

Debutante plagiarist Q.R. Markham's temporarily-lauded spy thriller, Assassin of Secrets, is in fact a string of passages lifted from other books in the genre. No-one noticed until it was released, at which time readers noticed at once.

The book's been recalled by publisher Little, Brown, whose president, Michael Pietsch, apologized in a prepared statement: "We take great pride in the writers and books we publish and tremendous care in every aspect of our publishing process, so it is with deep regret that we have published a book that we can no longer stand behind. Our goal is to never have this happen, but when it does, it is important to us to communicate with and compensate readers and retailers as quickly as possible."

The author represented others' work as his own, deceived and embarrassed those he worked with, and created a nightmare for his publisher, and deserves no sympathy or respect.

That said, the intensity and promiscuity of his literary swipeage is really something else; it's relentless, often at length, from a wide variety of sources. If he'd just thrown it out there as a mashup, instead of roping the industry into selling it as a fully-original work, this would have been an excellent project. You don't have to see it as some sort of snooty statement or deconstruction of the genre, just as a fantastic remix of classic Bond-dom that got lost on the way to the internet.

Accordingly, I have instructed our agents to acquire the rights to this books so that we may re-release it under the name QR Markov.


  1. That’s an interesting thought. The plagiarism doesn’t necessarily make the story bad or the book bad, only shows bad intent on the author’s part.
    Kind of like when we admire a bank robbery (or other crime) for its execution and/or audacity. The actual crime is interesting and impressive, yet that does not automatically mean that we condone the crime or make any excuse for the criminals.

  2. If he had done a better job of “stealing”/lifting ideas, then he might be the “Richest Woman in England” by now.

    JK Rowlings work is not all that original, but it is entertaining and has been changed “just enough” to be her own work.

    Simpsons did it: “Blood on the Blackboard… The Bart Simpson Story”… Staring Doogie Howsers’ Neil Patrick Harris

  3. Even the author’s name is plagiarized: The first non-Fleming Bond novel was written by Kingsley Amis under the name Robert Markham.

  4. “Deserves no sympathy or respect” ? That’s a little inconsistent isn’t it? Hasn’t Boing Boing’s position always been that mashups are a valid form of creativity, deserving of protection from the copyright police? This is only an issue because mashups are still not seen by the business community at large as being original works.

    No argument that it’s dishonest to not disclose that your book is made up of parts of other books, but I’ve got MAD respect for this guy. It would be in no way easy to cut and paste things from many sources together to form a coherent publishing-worthy whole. Frankly, it seems harder than actually writing an original story. Too bad the world works like this… if people were not completely irrational about copyright, this book would have made waves due to its method of construction and probably sold a lot of copies. 

    For those of you who are going to say “well, don’t the original authors of the original pieces deserve a taste? Shouldn’t they be paid?” Well… no. If you guys wanna be able to cut and paste news stories into your blogs with no more payment than simple attribution, you’ve got to allow for this kind of thing too.  No argument that the authors should be credited, but in a world where mashups are okay, it’s unrealistic to expect every person who contributed to a larger creative whole to get paid. It’s kind of ridiculous to claim ownership over an individual sentence or paragraph anyway. Language is a box of parts that can be combined many different ways, there’s gonna be repetition/borrowing sometimes. We can’t monetize everything.

    1. “Deserves no sympathy or respect” ? That’s a little inconsistent isn’t it? Hasn’t Boing Boing’s position always been that mashups are a valid form of creativity, deserving of protection from the copyright police?”

      Mashups, remixes etc: Good
      Presenting others work as your own, lying, fraud, etc: Bad

      Frankly, this was made pretty clear in the rest of the paragraph (and the post) that you quoted from.

    2. Presenting a mashup as a mashup, with attributions to the original authors and making sure people know it’s your remix of others’ work is awesome.

      Presenting a mashup as your own original story, with no attributions to the original authors and signing a contract saying it’s your own original work, with the intention of making money and knowingly defrauding a publisher?

      It’s night and day.

      Also: there are keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, and ‘find and replace.’ If you can show me the keyboard shortcut for ‘have and transcribe original thought after original thought until you make a novel,’ I *might* believe you when you say that copying and pasting from other’s work to make a coherent whole is comparable to writing the coherent whole yourself.

  5. Reading the side-by-side samples, I can’t help feeling that he’s taken bits of other people’s prose and somehow made it suck a little more, just with word choices and seemingly trivial tweaks. Does he have some kind of automated Dan Brown-ifier that takes in reasonable texts and spits out hackwork?

  6. This whole thing is hilarious – I hope Assassin of Secrets eventually sees the light of day – sounds great.  An annotated version might be a way to save face and get the book out there?? 

    Colonel Sun – the Kinglsey Amis/Robert Markham “Bond” novel is hardly a rare and obscure book.  It even seems to still be in print.  

  7. I can’t help respecting his chutzpah, though surely he can’t have expected to get away with it…

    Those who appreciate a ‘snooty statement’ might like Jonathan Lethem’s “The ecstasy of influence“, composed entirely of other people’s material.

  8. I reckon OWS should side with the author. I imagine OWS is against the strict control of knowledge and emotional experience.

  9. All trolling aside, I will agree that the kerfluffle will be monetarily devastating for the publishing company. And that is too bad because publishing is a hard business.

    I would like to offer a justification for the author, in the interest of paradox:

    Finding words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and incorporating them into a written work is the yin that goes along with the yang of writing. It is the way to explore the reception that is inherent in expression.

    Have you ever plagiarized? Used found words? I find it to be a most intense, pleasurable form of reading.

    To plagiarize is to play a writer as an actor, using pre-existing works as the script. Picasso said art is the lie that tells the truth. There is some truth in playing the role of the writer in this manner.

    It should also be noted that human kind has copied and mimicked for as long as we have existed. Copying and mimicking is the root of culture. Jane Goodall has observed that primate groups that discourage mimicry have extremely low instances of tool usage. Groups that encourage mimicry are advanced in tool usage.

    Our language would not exist if humans did not have an inherent drive to copy built into our psyches. Some word artists are drawn to exploring such an important capacity. Our best guesses about the roots of storytelling place a great deal of importance on our copying capacity. Think of oral storytelling traditions. Why did people repeat stories orally? Why do people repeat gossip? Why do people repeat jokes? Why do people repeat jargon and slang? Why do people wear the clothes of their in-group?

    Are copying and mimicry inheritable behavioral patterns? 

    Copying and mimicry are fundamental to ALL learning. Copying and mimicry are fundamental to expressions of empathy and connectedness. How do you express empathy for someone who is sad? How do you express empathy for someone who is joyful? Copying and mimicry are fundamental to building community and identity.

    Heaven forbid a word artist should explore these fundamental human behaviors in the commercial marketplace.

    It goes without saying there are no easy answers to questions of the morality and legalities of copying.

  10. Douche move, or awesome hoax?

    I think the real story here is how badly the publisher dropped the ball. It seems like throwing a few pages of text into Google could have saved them a lot of embarrassment.

    “Originality is nothing but judicious plagiarism.” – Voltaire
    “Originality is the art of concealing your sources.” – Benjamin Franklin

    1. When you sign a writing contract there is a clause that essentially says, ‘I acknowledge that this is my own original work, not copied, and therefore I own the rights to publish this that I am now selling to you, the publisher.’ The publisher cannot (and should not have to) put every manuscript they receive and might possibly publish into Google to make sure it’s not plagarized. The author lied about this work and his rights to it, pure and simple. The publisher is not at fault here for not checking–or more accurately, they did check, when they asked the author if he had the rights to sell them the book, and the author lied to them by signing the contract when he didn’t have the rights! They are the victim, and out many thousands of dollars at least in printing costs. I hope they get some legal redress from the author.

  11. Trying to pass it off as ‘original’ is plagiarism. Openly acknowledging that it is copied from older works is called détournement. Its a kind of literature that is associated with the poet Lautréamont and the Situationist International. All of which can be googled. Its also covered in my book The Beach Beneath the Street. The comic on the cover of which is nearly all détourned text by others. Its great American exponent was Kathy Acker. See also the work of Stewart Home

  12. Yet nobody is up in arms over the book-jacket designer plagiarizing Saul Bass?

    Anyhow, I agree with double_tilly.  We finally discarded all the victorian cultural baggage of being uptight about sexuality and realized that it is a function of what humans do.  it took several centuries, though.  when are we going to grow up about copyright?

    but what s/he said doesn’t mean Markham is off the hook, since he endeavored to profit from deception rather than presenting it honestly as a mash-up.  I’m in a glass cage of emotion!

  13. Reminds me of the Eurosong episode of Father Ted, where the priests think they’ve successfully stolen their song’s melody from a long-forgotten track, only to hear the same old song playing as muzak in the elevator.

  14. If a very, very poor person liberates an apple from a fruit stand, many people are willing to turn a blind eye to such a crime.If an emotionally or existentially poor man borrows some text so he can satisfy his need to have an identity, is that excusable, too?

    I think something left out of the conversation about copying is this:

    Role playing, mimicking, modeling are important individual behaviors for identity formation/maintenance and meaning-making.

  15. Changing ideas of authorship should be considered in terms of Occupy Wall Street. An author who refuses to be copied is the same as a totalitarian corporation who pays no taxes. As an author, to be copied is the social tax that must be paid in order to enjoy the fruits of authorship. 

  16. Original author gives time and energy. Reader gives attention. Without the attention of the reader, there would be no author.

    To appropriate is to give attention most extremely.

    Imagine listening to a friend telling a story she is passionate about. If you listen with a stone face, limited body language, no gestures and no vocalizations, you are not listening very well.

    If you listen actively, you give facial expression, body language response, and verbal response. SOME of your response WILL BE mimicry of the person telling the story. Because we establish empathy and connection at least partially through mimicry. If it’s a sad story and the teller’s face is sad, we will be likely to give sad face back. Etc.

    To appropriate writing is to listen actively. It is to read well. Every author wants to be read well.

    “Behind every charge of plagiarism is the crazed desire to be plagiarised.” -Marie Darrieussecq 

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