I suppose I’m somewhat remiss in not mentioning Darlom Slaketreader. After all he does run the largest and most prestigious bookshop in Port Naain. His emporium maintains a remarkably large selection of volumes, (although between ourselves I feel his selection of modern poetry is remarkably weak.)
His premises run to several floors and one can look at books, sip infusions and even doze quietly in an armchair should that be your wish.
In the interests of assisting his customers in finding the ‘right’ book Darlom came to an arrangement with sundry printers and publishers. If they wished, they could provide him with an extra copy and he would give this copy to a person of known good taste who had a genuine enthusiasm for reading. This person would read the book and pen a review. Darlom collected the reviews and they were available for inspection by anybody walking through the doors of ‘Slaketreader’s’.
This worked really well. I knew a number of the reviewers. This was inevitable, as they are, almost by definition, persons likely to be invited to literary functions. I grew to know and trust their tastes. So if Madam Turnbelt were to recommend a book to me, I would endeavour to borrow a copy as soon as maybe. Yet if Mistress Elwiddle recommended a book, whilst I liked and respected her every bit as much as Madam Turnbelt, I would smile gratefully and do nothing, knowing I would not enjoy the volume she’d suggested.
Then, in a fit of madness, Darlom decided to extend his circle of reviewers. Yet in all candour, and to be brutally frank about it, the printers were not going to release more free copies to him. Instead when you purchased a book there was a slip inside on which you could write your review. So the idea was you’d read the book, review it, and then drop your comments off at Slaketreader’s. I suspect the unspoken subtext was that whilst you were in the shop, it would be a sad job if Darlom and his entirely presentable staff couldn’t sell you another book.
The system was not without its flaws. The slips of paper did have the Slaketreader’s crest on them, but other than that they were largely undistinguished. Darlom discovered to his consternation that one book, ‘The lusts of an assassin,’ had sold five copies, but had somehow acquired over twenty reviews, all glowing. Initially he assumed that these five copies had been passed from hand to hand amongst a group of friends. Then on closer examination he realised that all the reviews were filled in with the same, firm hand. Not only that but the crest seemed to have been duplicated by somebody carving it in reverse on a potato.
The assassin lusts
For sales, not busts
Another review encrusts
The reputation of an undistinguished volume
Darlom put his foot down. All reviews now had to be written in the shop. This was done under the eagle eye of Mistress Elwiddle who was brought in to supervise. (At no great expense to be honest. I told her at the time she should have held out for more, but frankly she was swayed by the offer of a free book every day, as much coffee as she could drink and plenty of time for reading. Also, to be fair, the Slaketreader’s fondant fancies will turn even a poet’s head.)
This worked well enough for a while. Those who came in to review a book would sit at a table with Mistress Elwiddle and would discuss the book with her even as they wrote. From Darlom’s point of view this had an unforeseen advantage. Several young single men took to reading heavily and reviewing mightily.
Yet as always there has to be somebody who spoils it. Silhat Wheelbroom was jealous of how well a slim book of verse from Lancet Foredecks was selling. So he hired two clerks to go in and write scathing reviews. Lancet read these reviews and recognised the hand of Silhat in the form of words chosen. So he in turn cajoled a dozen ladies from his tea room to go into Slaketreader’s and leave excoriating reviews of Silhat’s most recent offering.
Inevitably matters escalated, until finally Mistress Elwiddle found herself trapped between a score of jackers who’d been coached to write, ‘Coz it’s crap’ in firm if unsteady hands, and an equal number of dock workers who’s lamentable contribution to literature was to scrawl ‘Silhat’s a plonker,’ on the review slip.
Luckily for Mistress Elwiddle, as the two brawling forces of literary criticism threatened to tread her underfoot, Bagwis Wallshot appeared. He is, in reality, a painter and even a sculptor, but the presence of Mistress Elwiddle had lured him into a study of literature. He was a prepossessing young man, tall with broad shoulders. He threw himself into the melee, laying about him initially with an occasional table, but eventually, due to the exigencies of combat, with a table leg. He hewed a path through the brawl to her, snatched her up just as she was about to go down for the third time, and with his left arm circumspectly placed around her waist, cleaved his path back.
For Darlom, this was all a step too far. He was minded at first to just scrap all reviews. Yet after some discussion with the printers and publishers, he allowed himself to be cajoled into going back to the original system when half a dozen stalwarts wrote them for him.
Madam Elwiddle Wallshot remained one of his most popular reviewers. Her wedding was one of the highlights of the literary year; Elwiddle, delightful as always, Bagwis looking surprisingly young and uncommonly noble.
In case you’re looking for a good book I’ll take the liberty of recommending one.
Buy it now before Amazon deletes all the reviews!
to quote a reviewer “Jim Webster has the kind of imagination that makes me think he has some secret passage through the wardrobe into this alternate wold of his. The characters are rounded and completely comfortable in his company and it almost seems they tell their own story . I am a big fan of Terry Pratchett books this may be his successor.”