Looking beyond the bad reviews

My last blogpost was all about ignoring bad reviews and moving on.  Hah, if only I could!  We authors have trouble moving on.  We can quote verbatim that awful review we got in the Podunk Gazette back in 1982, while we forget all the good things that have been said about our books.  So in the spirit of looking on the positive side, I will steadfastly avoid mentioning the two Reviewers-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named who slimed THE BONE GARDEN.

Well, okay, you twisted my arm. They were Publishers Weekly and some guy named David Pitt who made the jaw-dropping comment that he didn’t see the point of using Oliver Wendell Holmes in the story when any fictional character would have served the story just as well.  Hello?  A book about childbed fever? A disease that the real Dr. Holmes almost single-handedly stamped out in America?  Yeah, and if I’d written a Revolutionary War novel, Mr. Pitt probably would have groused, “why use George Washington as a character when any fictional first President would have worked just as well?”

But I digress.

The point is, I’m obsessing over those two bad reviews when there’ve been many more great reviews of BONE GARDEN.  And now it’s time to mention them, if only to make myself feel better.  So here goes, with links when I could get them:

KIRKUS (starred review):  “Readers with delicate stomachs may find Gerritsen’s graphic descriptions of corpse dissection hard to take, but the story, which digs up a dark Boston of times long past, entices readers to keep turning pages long after their bedtimes.”

USA TODAY: “Lively dialogue and a pitch-perfect narrative make for a highly engrossing novel.”

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS (Colorado):  “Mixing the gruesomely bloody with the scientifically compelling, this time-traveling tale never misses its mark.”

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL (Oline Cogdill): “No matter how graphic the medical scenes are, it is the poignant stories of Gerritsen’s well-developed characters that make “The Bone Garden” one of her best.”

THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Toronto): “Gerritsen knows how to do historical detail: the plot, with ghouls and grave-robbers is great, and the mystery of the body in the modern yard is well done, too.  This is one of Gerritsen’s best.”

THE GAZETTE (Montreal): “I adore a historical novel, particularly a mystery, and The Bone Garden is one such book. It’s a ripping good read, and I learned something, too.”

OTTAWA CITIZEN (Canada): “An intriguing departure for Gerritsen… Shifting deftly back and forth between the present and 1830 Boston, she creates a compelling and historically detailed narrative about an earnest med student, illicit cadavers, brutal murders, and the state of medicine at that time.”

MADISON COUNTY HERALD (Mississippi): “A bold and unexpected new direction from the queen of medical suspense… The Bone Garden is as thrilling as it is horrific, combining a shameful time in American medical history with murder and intrigue a la Sherlock Holmes.”  

MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM: “Tess Gerritsen is a master technician whose specialty is cauldrons of blood, pus and treachery.  It may keep you up at night, but that’s the point.  It works.”

DAILY AMERICAN (Somerset County, PA): “This is a fascinating look at early medical science, as well as a good, character-driven mystery.  The murderer will come as a complete surprise.”

BOSTON GLOBE: “The medical practices that Gerritsen depicts are fascinating.  In addition to the well-drawn scenes in the hospital, she takes readers on grisly journeys with a procurer of cadavers, to be used in the training of medical students.  Here, too, she calls on her experience as a physician to render situations in excruciatingly horrific detail.”

MYSTERY NEWS: Tess Gerritsen tells her story beautifully, with just a smidgen of humor… Her own medical background is evident and her peering into a true historical past just adds to the enjoyment.”

WICHITA EAGLE: “Gerritsen brings 1830s Boston to life with vivid detail, from the stench and squalor of Rose’s rented room to the delectable opulence of the doctors’ parties… Aside from the chilling suspense and well-plotted mystery, THE BONE GARDEN certainly makes us appreciate how far medicine has come.”

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: “With realistic detail, Gerritsen describes the unimaginable living conditions endured then by the poor… Richly plotted, with superbly developed characters, it’s a suspense thriller likely to keep you reading into the wee hours.”


26 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    Well, my goodness, we’re not allowed to write about Oliver Wendell Holmes or you’re not allowed to write about him or we’re not allowed to place real people in fiction or you’re not? Help me out here–are you being singled out as not being allowed to do this or does this apply to all of us. Where did this Pitt clown write this review? It sounds like something off of Amazon. But let’s just say for giggles that this statement applies to all authors and all real people–there goes Laura Ingalls Wilder, Milton, Dante, Twain, and I’d mention the Bible but I won’t because I don’t want to start anything.:-) Anyway I find it troubling that someone is getting paid for saying something that stupid.

  2. Christine
    Christine says:

    Hi Tess,

    I notice that some of your positive reviews mentioned character development.

    About ten years I was a crime fiction junkie, and I have to confess that now I only really look out for one author. Sue Grafton. I do have a copy of one of your books sitting here, but haven’t had the chance to read it yet. At the minute I am trying to write in another genre, and am very occupied!

    Now Sue Grafton was not remotely the best writer of all those I read, but there was just something about her.

    On reflection, I never cared a bit about who did it. Grisly never bothered me. It was the characters every time that did it for me. And no matter what genre I read now, this holds true. Still.

  3. therese
    therese says:

    All these great reviews describe the style, depth of characterization and exceptional craftsmanship you bring to your books for your readers.

    Your sensitivity to the bash on Dr. Holmes and this exceptional turning point in the history of medicine shows that you put your heart and soul into your books and that’s the difference. This was the reason you wrote the book, why it was so agonizing for you to create the right story to show the reality of the time.

    So I – as a reader and fellow writer – truly appreciate the reminder of past truth framed out in a compelling story, with great characters, historical accuracy, surprise twists, suspense built with real people we could meet today and a mystical twist at the end.

    Regardless of what PW stated, (Mr. Pitt is to be totally disregarded as having missed the whole point) you have given readers what few authors can do in one book. Truth, mystery, courage and love that travels across time.

    Good Job Girl!

  4. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    Miss Snark has hung up her stilletto heels. Perhaps she will lend you her “clue gun” so that you can use it on worthy subjects such as David Pitt.

    Honestly…He Just Doesn’t Get It.

    And PW is anonymous, so they hide behind their Invisibility Cloak and throw spit balls. I’ve read some lousy PW reviews for books that I adored and I begun wondering if they are unfeeling individuals who are in need of therapy.

    Don’t let the turkeys get you down, or the porcupines get near your donkeys!



  5. knaster
    knaster says:

    ……..and word from the very first New York-Long Island Tess Gerritsen Fan Club (now up to 22 members) – Tess Gerritsen is to best selling literature what Mother Teresa was to her angelic compassion for others. We love you out here on Long Island, Tess. For every bad review, the are 2 or more favorable ones. Just keep doing what you have been doing. WE know the truth.

  6. Therese Fowler
    Therese Fowler says:

    Ah, reviews… One has to suspect that some reviewers are frustrated wannabe-novelists, ready and willing to disdain whatever doesn’t suit their inflated I-could-do-it-better-if-only-I-had-time sensibilities.

    Tess, you’ll recall my recent PW “spitball” (as l.c. mccabe puts it here). My very first ever review–cruel fate! But when that was followed soon after by a stellar Booklist review and a starred Library Journal review, I began to see the big picture much more clearly.

    With PW in particular, it’s a crapshoot as to whether the assigned reviewer is at all suited to the book. Subjectivity, taste, prejudice–all these affect the quality of the review. I understand that PW uses some 100+ freelancers, who get less than $50 per review. Who are these reviewers? Some are terrific, but those seem to be the minority.

    As I get closer to pub date and more and more wonderful early reader reviews for my novel come in, I can rest more easily on the prospect that the majority rules–and that is clearly the case with your books!

    I’ll add this question: does anyone know what the arrangement is with PW and Amazon that Amazon grabs every PW review and posts it immediately?

  7. ec
    ec says:

    I wish I remember where I first hear this, but I don’t, so please pardon the lack of attribution.

    Some critics are remarkably similar to eunachs. They see it being done, they assume they know how it should be done, but they can’t do it themselves–and they’re pissed.

  8. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    The David Pitt comment criticizing your use of Holmes as a character reads like a guy getting personal. Without enough ammunition to mess with you in your writing, he has to invent something. Very strange. Maybe he knew you would react, and he’d get his name mentioned. Pitt didn’t try to hand you a manuscript at a book signing, did he? 🙂

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    You all are the best!

    Therese, I have no idea why Amazon.com posts the PW review so prominently and in first position. Perhaps it’s because PW is often the first review out of the block? I agree that a PW review really is a crapshoot. You don’t know who you’re getting, and from my observation, there’s absolutely no correlation between a PW review and how well the book sells — or how well-received the book will be by the public.

  10. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Sad to think about but I think if only good authors paid attention to bad reviews I feel we would have alot mor bad authors getting published!

  11. JanetK
    JanetK says:

    Tess, a few weeks ago I recommended your books to my former-English-teacher mother. She purchased THE MEPHISTO CLUB and loved it so much that a week later she bought a copy of THE BONE GARDEN. On Thanksgiving, she said, “I adored it!”

    One new fan for you 🙂

  12. Tom Young
    Tom Young says:

    I’m so glad I read books based on my knowledge of the authors prior works. I don’t think I’ve read a bad book by you yet, have loved them all.

    I am sure that Oliver would be proud of your character in the book, maybe your next book will have a victim named David

  13. vividexpression
    vividexpression says:

    I had a Reviews and Critiques class last year and one of the things we were taught, if I’m remembering correctly, is not to write a review before researching the subject. (or don’t write reviews on books with subjects you know nothing about) We did a restaurant review and we had to research what the food should be like before setting foot in the restaurant. It’s hard to critique whether something is done right when you have no idea how it should be in the first place.

    It’s interesting to read some of the other speculation as to why Pitt made such an ignorant comment. I’ll throw mine in there. It seems like he knew nothing about the time period or subject matter and therefore created a stupid review based on nothing. You obviously spent a lot of time researching to add characters and details to make the story come alive, and to simply ignore that and put in random characters makes zero sense.

    I haven’t read THE BONE GARDEN yet, (as much as I hate to admit it… the library book pile has taken over the books I own pile) but it seems like at least half the horror of the story is that it is based on actual events.

    Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and I’ve wanted to start writing some reviews, but I find it tough. I wish I could give all books 5 stars and high praise but unfortunately that isn’t the case. And while I know it’s the not a reviewers job to sugarcoat, I still have fears the author is going to see the review and feel really disappointed.

  14. Therese Fowler
    Therese Fowler says:

    to vividexpression: if your reviews are even-handed and objective, i.e. you’re evaluating the book on how well it succeeds in what it’s attempting to do, rather than by some subjective standard, you shouldn’t worry.

    Too many reviews are really only opinions–and opinion is fine for what’s meant to be a personal reaction, but not appropriate as the basis for a review.

    A well-done review will allow a pro to find ways to improve his or her work–in which case you’d be doing authors favors.

  15. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    It’s that pit-of-the-stomach ball that gets to me. You think you’re ready for it, but when you hear someone lambaste your work, it takes all your energy to keep saying “It’s just business. It’s just business.”

    But don’t you wish just once their hands would atrophy as they type and their brains would dissolve into mush? ;))

    I think Mr. Pitt was not sophisticated enough to make the connection, for his comment seems a bit sophmoric.

  16. Brett Battles
    Brett Battles says:

    I swear this is true…I had just checked my amazon listing and noticed a new reader review. When I – reluctantly – scrolled down to it, I was greeted with, that’s right, a sucky review. To make me feel better, I thought I’d visit a few blogs…I have no set order when visiting blogs. I’m very random about it. But Tess, yours was the very first I went to today. And there I was staring at a headline that read: LOOKING BEYOND THE BAD REVIEWS. I think I laughed. I KNOW I smiled.

    Thank you, Tess. And those good review for THE BONE GARDEN are fantastic! As are you.

  17. shanty
    shanty says:

    Well Mrs. Gerritsen, I haven’t read The Bone Garden yet, as I just got it on Monday.

    I think Mr. Pitt has different level of intelligence than any of us.

    Don’t think about what Mr. Pitt said, it’s not worth your time and energy. Your books are very very good! I have to buy them from Singapore, as I can’t find them here in Indonesia.

    #1 fans in Jakarta, Indonesia

  18. Divetatoo
    Divetatoo says:

    Hi Tess,

    I haven’t read your books long. In fact I started with the Mephisto Club (which was awesome!!) I ran and got The Bone Garden as soon as I could. I admit at first I was very worried that I may not like it as it didn’t have that really strong suspence I got from the first book. As I read and understood the characters I had a very hard time putting it down!! Your way of description is definitely the best I’ve seen. I was a hugh Michael Prescott fan, and I have now found an author I like even more….you!! Thank you for your creativity and thank you for sharing your gift with the world.

    BTW, sometimes critics are the worst thing for books, movies and music. Keep doing what youre doing!

  19. doomer
    doomer says:

    I recently listened to an interview with Dean Koontz. It was a little rare, in that it was a 3-hour interview, as opposed to the 10-minute spots authors usually get. In that interview, he made the comment that he ignores both good and bad reviews. His reasoning was that listening to either would lead him to make decisions, based upon the positive or negative criticism, that are contrary to the story line he is passionate about. Being passionate about the story line is what leads him to let it back into the house at night and feed it. So, he ignores both because doing so leads to better stewardship in his writing.

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