‘Sock puppets!’

Late on Friday night, a tweet from the writer Alan Gillespie appeared on my feed that read ‘Read @jeremyduns‘ timeline for a literary Hollyoaks episode. Mental.’ It was accompanied by retweets of Ian Rankin, saying ‘I’m sitting here, numb, staring at @jeremyduns timeline this evening…. ‘, and of Duns himself, who said ‘If you want to read my tweets about RJ Ellory’s sockpuppeting, @stevemosby has kindly just collated them’ and linked to this Storify thread.

It turned out that Duns – author of the Paul Dark series of spy novels for Simon and Schuster – had done some investigative work on a few Amazon reviews (godspeed, sir, in that abode of the damned) and come up with conclusive proof that bestselling thriller writer R. J. Ellory had engaged in sock puppeting: using aliases to write positive reviews on the site for his own books, whilst slamming those of his rivals. Duns spotted recurring patterns of style, phrasing and opinions amongst two users in particular – ‘Jelly Bean’ and ‘Nicodemus Jones’ – that led him to believe they were pseudonyms of Ellory’s.

The most damning evidence, however, came when Ellory clearly forgot which account he was meant to be using, and commented on a one-star ‘Nicodemus’ review of Stuart McBride’s Dark Blood – in reply to a comment directed at Nicodemus – under his own name, seemingly apropos of nothing. He then proceeded to, in Duns’ words, ‘[give] details of his books that only an author could. He reveals which will next be recorded as an audio book, discusses translators, mentions where he is, talks about photos he is about to put on Facebook, mentions he is nominated for the Theakston’s award, and much more besides.’ So, uh, oops. Shall we get the inevitable Simpsons clip out of the way now? Let’s.

Ellory has since admitted to his underhand tactics and apologised, calling the incident a ‘lapse in judgement’ and facing a storm of criticism from fellow authors (including a condemnatory open letter from signatories including Rankin, Val McDermid and Lee Childs). Duns’ initial investigations appear to have opened a can of worms, though, with the BBC now reporting that crime writer Stuart Neville is making similar accusations about his fellow Northern Irishman Sam Millar – claims that, unlike Ellory, Millar is denying. More to follow, no doubt.

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