I’d like to talk about the F Bomb in books, and in particular my books, as I can’t speak for anyone else. I hope you join me in a sensible discussion by leaving your comments at the foot of this post. Let me make this clear – this is not a rant about bad reviews. I can live with them as the good far outweigh the bad. In any event, I have matured in my attitude to bad reviews. Instead of fuming, I learn from them. Someone once said, “there is always at least a kernel of truth in a critical review.” I agree.

Before I launch into me and my writing, let me explain what prompted this post. It was a critical review of Mercy, my latest release, and it got me to thinking. That’s good, right? I started to analyse the criticism and agreed with the lady. I will tone it down somewhat in my next book subject to what follows.

Here’s what she wrote:

2 1/2 stars, rounded up to 3, because it was, basically, an engaging action-packed story. Low rating because of the sex, graphic violence and frequent profanity. I cringed my way through it, actually. Tone it down, please, a little next time, Mr. Bentley.

Originally, I did reply to her because she expressed her criticism so courteously, but have now deleted my comment as it didn’t do justice to my ‘side of the story.’

Thank you, Louise, for a forthright review but expressed in such a courteous and helpful manner. I will follow your advice, and indeed had already decided to do so of my own volition.

My intention is always to entertain and not to make readers cringe. For that, I genuinely apologize.

You have taught me a valuable lesson. I just wish there were more like you capable of criticizing without being downright nasty.

Please look out for Book Two in the series. I won’t let you down!

Best Wishes, Stephen

What I should have said was this, under the various headings:


I agree. I can in future leave more to the reader’s imagination but sex and sexual chemistry is important between certain characters in fiction as they are in the real world.

Graphic Violence

My fiction work is about detectives. I used to be one and a criminal trial attorney (UK barrister) so I know first hand about real violence. Violence is violence. I will not water it down or be censored. My writing is based on real knowledge.

Frequent Profanity

Detectives, in real life and in my fiction,  and my other fictional characters are not choir boys or angels. The words they use, hence the dialogue, is truly reflective of real detectives and denizens of the criminal underworld. Besides, “profanity” as you call it is not that frequent in my books. Sometimes, it’s used humorously.

Here is a classic example taken from my bestselling undercover cop memoir. I referenced The Wire scene in that book here:

I flung open the curtains in his room, “Look!”
“Well, fuck me!” was all Eric could say. Come to think of it, we both said a lot of ‘fucks’ in our time together, just like McNulty and Bunk in the hilarious but could-be-true murder re-enactment scene from the HBO TV show ‘The Wire.’
The cause of this “fuck me” was outside our windows. There was the large Ford sign on the wall of the dreary building with “Walker and Jackson,” the dealership name, under the distinctive blue and white Ford logo! Eric Walker and Steve Jackson! [My Edit: Walker and Jackson were our fake undercover names]

The Wire scene is hilarious but maybe you have had to have been a cop to fully appreciate it. This is a compressed version of the Bunk and McNulty scene from The Wire, one of my favourite TV shows because it’s gritty, dark and realistic.

I am not advocating the use of swearing in normal everyday life. It has a place and a time.It can be funny as I tried to show in that clip.

I could, of course, add I don’t write cozy mysteries. That should be clear to anyone who buys Mercy. First, it has a trigger warning on the book description:

*** Trigger Warning ***
Contains a scene of sexual violence and some scenes of explicit consensual adult sex.

Second, the categories include Hard-Boiled Mystery, Fiction Urban Life, and Noir.

I used the term F Bomb in the title of this post. That made me ponder the origin of the term. I found this:

We like to create a family-friendly environment here at The Score. We might recall tales of New Yorkers hurling expletives at each other during rush hour to our colleagues, but in doing so, we prefer to use the common term “f-bomb” in place of the expletive it stands for.

The phrase has become so common, in fact, that Merriam-Webster added “f-bomb” to its dictionary this year. But it raises the question: What are the origins of this swearword substitute?

According to Merriam-Webster, it was none other than late former Mets catcher Gary Carter who coined the phrase in 1988. It’s not a complete surprise, as The Kid, who succumbed to brain cancer in February, was known for being a goody two-shoes on a late 1980s Mets squad full of men who lived fast and hard.

According to a 1988 Newsday article, on Aug. 8 that year, the Mets were in Pittsburgh taking on the Pirates, and during the seventh inning, Carter was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Greg Bonin. The Kid wasn’t pleased with the called third strike, arguing that the pitch was outside. Bonin was sensitive about the criticism and ratcheted the spat up a notch, cursing out Carter and alleging that Carter called him a liar, according to the catcher.

The Kid said he then began walking away, surprised at Bonin’s vulgar vocabulary. He said he asked Bonin why he was cursing, to which Bonin responded, “I talk like that.” “OK, guttermouth,” Carter replied.

Carter then acknowledged he had been tossed from a major league game just twice before, both times by the same umpire, Eric Gregg.

“That was when I used to use the f-bomb,” Carter said, admitting to his former foul-mouthed ways.

And thus, a popular phrase was born. So the next time you drop an f-bomb, remember the Hall of Famer who gave us this curse word stand-in.

That brings me to a further point about the use of the F word and the difference in attitudes between us Brits and some Americans when confronted by the word.

The United Kingdom left Victorian moral standards behind a long time ago. From the Sixties on, we experienced a cultural revolution and a relaxation of censorship whether that be in books, music, plays, or film and TV. Nudity, simulated sex, and swearing are all regular fare now on British TV and in British films.

However, in my experience, a large number of prudes still exist in the States. Many, I suspect, are guilty of double standards. Many, no doubt, profess to be Christians of the fundamental type. Yet, they often are the most judgmental people!

I say, “Live and let live” as long as no harm ensues. No one got killed or perverted by reading one of my books. Some, indeed it appears the majority, enjoyed them.

Please join the conversation.

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