Oh no he didn't! Serial plagiarist finally gets caught.
Here we go again. The latest plagiarism scandal to set tongues wagging in the publishing world involves one Q. R. Markham, pen name for Quentin Rowan. Alert readers picked up on the fact that huge sections of his debut novel, Assassin of Secrets, were stolen from well known authors in the spy novel genre. In fact, Markham stitched the parts of this Frankenstein monster of a novel together so skillfully that it won high praise from well respected reviewers. It was even cited as one of the best books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, at least until the scandal broke, and Markham's publisher told book sellers to return the book.
Markham's was a progidgious feat of plagiarism. In an interview on CBC radio's Q, Edward Champion, editor of the cultural website Reluctant Habits, told host Jian Ghomeshi he fed passages from Markham's book into Google Books, and by page 17 he'd already found nine instances of plagarism; by page 35 he'd found 32 instances! Here's an example, from Champion's website:
Markham, Page 17: “Also, it was evident to Brewster from the day he met Chase in Korea that he was the finest natural spy he had ever encountered. There was no easy explanation for his talent. Perhaps the first reason for his excellence was his truculent refusal to believe in anybody’s innocence. Chase treated all men and women as enemy agents at all times; they could be used, paid, praised. They could be loved. But they could never be trusted. What might seem paranoia in another man was shrewd intuition in Chase.”
Taken from Charles McCarry, The Last Supper: “Also, it was evident to Hubbard from the day Wolkowicz arrived in Berlin that he was the finest natural spy he had ever encountered. There was no easy explanation for this talent. Perhaps the first reason for his excellence was his truculent refusal to believe in anybody’s innocence. Wolkowicz treated all men, and especially all women, as enemy agents at all times; they could be used, paid, praised. What might seem paranoia in another man was shrewd intuition in Wolkowicz.”
If you'd like to see more samples of plagiarized passages compared to original passages, visit Reluctant Habits. After the plagiarisim was exposed, people turned their attention to Markham's earlier works. Turns out this isn't the first time he's helped himself to the work of other writers. Markham is a serial plagariast. He stole from Geoffrey O'Brien's book Dream Time for an article published in The Huffington Post, called, 9 Ways That Spy Books Made Me a Better Book Seller. One of his bolder acts was to plagiarize Graham Greene's classic Our Man in Havanna in a short story published in The Paris Review.
What could Markham have been thinking? How could he steal from Charles McCarry, John Gardner, Robert Ludlum, James Bamford, Raymond Benson, Graham Greene, and more, and not know he'd get caught? Did he calculate that he'd win no matter how it played out? If he got away with it, he'd be a promising new novelist with positve reviews. And if he got caught, well, the publicity would help boost book sales. He could hit the talk show circuit doing the public apology-humiliation-self-flagellation routine, while watching sales of 'his' book rise (the book's ranking shot up on Amazon Books after the plagiarism was exposed.) Or he could claim it was all an elaborate joke, that he wasn't really a thief, just a clever prankster. Or he could claim that what he did was a legitimate form of literary creation, a kind of literary collage. (In response to the actions of Markham's publisher, on the website Open Page, Chauncey Mabe wrote "I call upon Little, Brown to put the books back on the shelves and to defend Markham/Rowan as a courageous new kind of artist.")
That he would assassinate his own reputation, if caught, was perphaps not an issue with Markham. If James Frey could rise again after his public flaying on Oprah over presenting fiction as biography in A Million Little Pieces, then why not Markham? After all, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Spy novelist Jeremy Duns (who had praised Assassin of Secrets before the plagiarism was discovered) received an apology from Markham via e-mail, which Duns published on his website, The Debrief. In it, Markham refers to a 'death wish' and 'addictive behavior'; 'once I'd started,' he writes, 'I couldn't stop' . Whatever further explanations he may give in the coming days, what stands out for me is his thievery. I for one, am not inclined to enrich this man. If ever I'm curious enough to want to read 'his' book, I won't spend money on it. I'll get it from my local library.
Here are just some of the books Markham plagiarized from:
| The Tears of Autumn
|| High Time to Kill
|| Body of Secrets
|| Licence Renewed
If you want to read more on this topic:
"Kirkus Reviews Accidentally Includes Q.R. Markham in Its Best of 2011 List "The New York Observer
"Little, Brown Pulls Novel, Citing Plagarism" New York Times
"Sales rise for novel pulled over plagarism allegation" The Globe and Mail
"QR Markham apologises for 'awful pantomime' of plagiarism" The Guardian
"Spy Thriller: 'An Instant Classic' Vanishes Amid Plagiarism Charges" The Wall Street Journal"
"Q. R. Markham Basically Plagiarized Everything He Ever Wrote" The New York Observer
"Highway Robbery: The Mask of Knowing in Assassin of Secrets" The Debrief
Listen to Jian Ghomeshi's interview with Ed Champion, on CBC Radio's Q. (Click on the November 15, 2011 episode of Q)
For a fascinating read on the topic of plagiarism, copyright, and influence in the arts, see Jonathan Lethem's essay, The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, which was published in Harper's Magazine. The essay is also available in Lethem's new book, The ecstasty of influence: non-fictions, etc.