“The memorial service for Jane Neal was short and sweet, and had it been plump it would have been an exact replica for the woman.”

Can you spot the error in that sentence? Or errors?

The sentence is the intro to Chapter 10 in the novel Still Life, author Louise Penny’s first book in her Inspector Gamache mystery series. Penny is a superb writer who has a beautiful way with words, though I can’t yet comment on the plot development of her story (I’m only 60% of the way through it). But you may be aware that Amazon Prime has picked up some of her novels for a new series they are calling Three Pines, to much acclaim by the media.

Back to the opening sentence in Chapter 10: The words “exact replica” are redundant. A replica is an exact copy. The word “replica” would have sufficed. But how could a memorial service be a replica “for” a plump woman, anyway?

OK. <any people might not have noticed the grammatical shortcomings of that sentence. And many who might have noticed it may not have cared at all.

But I’m sure many seasoned copy editors (like me) and grammar teachers who read it would have been wondering why the editor of her book let that one slide. It’s not a question of poetic licence. Even if you could draw comparisons between a person’s girth and a funeral service, “exact replica” is simply bad grammar on two counts. Did the editor not know this? Did they query Louise Penny about it? 

Yes, I am a nitpicking editor. I have been doing it for several decades, and there was a time when if we let an error like that get into print, we heard about it from the editor-in-chief. Especially that one.

Sure. It’s a small thing, and if it were the only grammatical error in the book, one could shrug it off. But when you are reading a book by an acclaimed author and come across more than a few grammatical errors in the first half of the book, you might wonder about the editors employed by the publishing house.

I suppose this is my private cross to bear: I expect perfect editing, even if the story is not all that good. Thing is, most people don’t share my high standards on this subject — even younger editors still struggle with the difference between the words “lose” and “loose.” But the less-than-perfect editing won’t stop me from finishing Louise Penny’s book. And if I like her ability to weave a good cosy mystery, I will read more books in the series — unless the editing gets worse. There is a point of disgust over bad editing where I simply stop reading.

Don’t get me wrong, by the way: I’m not picking on Louise Penny. Every writer needs an editor, no matter how good they are. I’m just disappointed that a copy editor let her down.

— Jillian