Spy Thriller: 'An Instant Classic' Vanishes Amid Plagiarism Charges
Publisher Recalls Novel After Passages Discovered Mimicking Bond, James Bond
The book is a thriller about an elite CIA agent chasing a shadowy international group of assassins. But Tuesday, publisher Little, Brown & Co. recalled all 6,500 copies of the novel on the grounds that passages were "lifted" from other books. One sharp-eyed observer says he had identified at least 13 novels with similar material.
Little, Brown hasn't put a number on it, saying just that many passages in the book were "taken from a variety of classic and contemporary spy novels." But it is still early: the book was published Nov. 3 and similarities were only discovered since then.
One example, noted by spy novelist Jeremy Duns, is this passage from "Assassin of Secrets": "Then he saw her, behind the fountain, a small light, dim but growing to illuminate her as she stood naked but for a thin, translucent nightdress; her hair undone and falling to her waist—hair and the thin material moving and blowing as though caught in a silent zephyr." The same sentence appears precisely in "License Renewed," a James Bond novel by John Gardner, a search of Google Books shows.
As to the author, he could be a character in a mystery novel. "Assassin of Secrets" is credited to Q.R. Markham, which Little, Brown says is a pseudonym for the poet Quentin Rowan. Mr. Rowan's writing has appeared in The Paris Review and the compilation "Best American Poetry 1996." He is also a small investor in Brooklyn, N.Y., bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown, where a spy-themed book party for "Assassin of Secrets" was held last Friday.
Mr. Rowan couldn't be reached for comment.
Pages From the BookCompare Q.R. Markham's book with others.
In the book "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" by James Bamford is this: "In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular workspace."
Of one character, "Assassin" says: "He knew the names and pseudonyms, the photographs, and the operative weakness of every agent controlled by Americans everywhere in the world."
While in "The Tears of Autumn," by Charles McCarry, it says: "He knew the names and pseudonyms, the photographs and the operative weakness of every agent controlled by Americans everywhere in the world."
In at least one instance, the similarities flow cleanly from one scene to the next.
On page 128, the book pivots from a nine-paragraph passage pulled largely from "The Prometheus Deception," by Robert Ludlum, and moves into a seven-paragraph passage, lifted almost entirely from "Nobody Lives Forever," another James Bond novel by Mr. Gardner. The only differences from the originals are proper names, some deletions and a few stray phrases.
The recall is a turnabout for the book, which received some excellent reviews. Publishers Weekly, for instance, observed that the author "strays far enough into James Bond territory to border on parody, but the fine writing keeps the enterprise firmly on track, and the obvious Ian Fleming influence just adds to the appeal."
"Our reviewer didn't pick up on anything suspicious," said Jim Milliot, co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly.
A reader commenting on an online forum devoted to James Bond noted the similarity in the material. Among those reading the comments was Mr. Duns, a writer of spy novels such as "Free Agent," who liked the book so much he was quoted on the cover of the U.K. edition calling it "an instant classic." The U.K. edition was due to be published on Nov. 10 but the status of that is now unclear.
Intrigued by the online comment about the similarity to James Bond novels, Mr. Duns, who lives in Sweden, did some research online. Plugging certain material into Google Books, Mr. Duns said that he was able to identify at least 13 novels from which material was similar for "Assassin of Secrets."
"Entire sequences are from other novels," said Mr. Duns. "He didn't even bother to rework anything. It must be the worst case of plagiarism I've ever seen. How did he think he'd get away with this? He fooled me, but others were bound to notice eventually—as they did."
A spokeswoman for Little, Brown, which is owned by Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group, said the publishing house learned of the plagiarism accusations Tuesday morning. The publishing house did some checking, concluded that passages had been "lifted" from earlier works and decided to recall the book. Those seeking a refund should return the title to the retailer from whom they bought it.
—Christopher S. Stewart and Sam Schechner contributed to this article.