On the morning of September 11, 2001, a courageous young woman escapes from the World Trade Center, but that is only the beginning of her trouble. To stay alive and avenge an old woman's death, Anna Petrescu must flee both the FBI and a would-be assassin. Her pursuit and her equally strange artistic mission, take her to Toronto, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bucharest. Jeffrey Archer's first thriller in seven years reminds us of what we had been missing.
Even though Archer (Sons of Fortune) grounds his international art-thievery thriller in the events of 9/11, this leisurely paced, tepid effort has a musty feel. It's September 10, 2001, and Lady Victoria Wentworth is sitting in spacious Wentworth Hall considering the sad state of family fortunes when a female intruder slips in, slashes her throat and cuts off her ear. The next day in New York, art expert Anna Petrescu heads to her job as art wrangler for wealthy magnate Bryce Fenston of Fenston Finance. The pair's offices are in the Twin Towers, and when disaster strikes, each sees the tragedy as an opportunity to manipulate a transaction scheduled to transfer ownership of a legendary Van Gogh painting, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, from the Wentworth estate to the larcenous Fenston. The initially intriguing character, hit-woman and ex-gymnast Olga Krantz, turns out to be too lightweight, both physically and fictionally, to garner strong interest in anything other than her deadly skills with a kitchen knife. Lord Archer has been busy for the past five years or so serving half of a four-year prison sentence for perjury and writing a series of books about his prison experience; his first novel in seven years disappoints. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Consummate storyteller Archer (e.g., Sons of Fortune) is back in top form with his latest thriller. It's September 2001, and banker Bryce Fenston is being tailed by the FBI because several of his high-profile clients have died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Fenston Finance in control of rare art assets. When the owner of a priceless Van Gogh self-portrait is murdered at her English estate, FBI agent Jack Delany is ready to swoop in on Fenston and the bank's art historian, Anna Petrescu. Anna, however, is one of the good guys, ready to risk her career (and her life) to save the painting from Fenston's clutches. Before she can take control of the situation, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center occurs, leaving Anna presumed dead, which she uses to her advantage. A whirlwind, worldwide chase begins, with both the FBI and Fenston's paid assassin after Anna and the famous painting. Archer's usual plot twists and fast pace make for an enjoyable page-turner. His harrowing description of what it may have been like to escape the Twin Towers on 9/11 will haunt readers. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Rebecca Vnuk, River Forest P.L., IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Now that he's completed his trilogy of prison diaries (2003-05), Lord Archer, out on the street again, returns to his old habits with this tale of a disgraced art expert's attempt to thwart her villainous banker boss's plot to fleece a fine old English family of van Gogh's Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear. The morning after Lady Victoria Wentworth has her throat cut before she can follow Dr. Anna Petrescu's advice about selling off her van Gogh to cover her debt to Fenston Finance, Bryce Fenston fires Anna for offering the advice. Getting sacked is the best thing that could have happened to her, because while she's waiting for an elevator to take her down to the first floor of the World Trade Center for the last time, the building is rocked by a fiery explosion. Yes, it's 9/11, and while Archer is using the disaster as colorful background, Anna's taking advantage of the chaos to disappear, presumed dead. She plans to fly to England and ask Arabella Wentworth, Victoria's twin and heir, to help her steal the canvas, now technically Fenston's property, before Fenston's lieutenant, disbarred lawyer Karl Leapman, can pick it up. Knowing that a terrorist bombing goes only so far, Archer (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.) ladles on extra complications. An FBI agent who's had his eye on Fenston gets on Anna's trail. Her phone calls to her friend Tina Forster, Fenston's assistant, puts her irate ex-boss close behind. The knife-wielding assassin who killed Victoria Wentworth goes after Anna as well. Gradually, globe-hopping flights and substitutions of a hilariously unconvincing forgery for the real van Gogh start to take the place of plot developments, and somewhere between Bucharest and London, most ofthe suspense evaporates, though there are still a hundred pages left to run.
From the Publisher
“Archer is back in top form with [this] latest thriller.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Thoroughly imagined...entertaining...thrilling.” Denver Post
“Murder and a high-stakes art-world theft are cleverly blended [in this] exciting...global thrill-ride.” Vancouver Sun
“Sail along from one high crime to the next....Archer is a great plotter....[and] in the middle of the action, [he] drops research gems.” Liz Smith, New York Post
Read an Excerpt
Victoria Wentworth sat alone at the table where Wellington had dined with sixteen of his field officers the night before he set out for Waterloo.
General Sir Harry Wentworth sat at the right hand of the Iron Duke that night, and was commanding his left flank when a defeated Napoleon rode off the battlefield and into exile. A grateful monarch bestowed on the general the title Earl of Wentworth, which the family had borne proudly since 1815.
These thoughts were running through Victoria’s mind as she read Dr. Petrescu’s report for a second time. When she turned the last page, she let out a sigh of relief. A solution to all her problems had been found, quite literally at the eleventh hour.
The dining-room door opened noiselessly and Andrews, who from second footman to butler had served three generations of Wentworths, deftly removed her ladyship’s dessert plate.
“Thank you,” Victoria said, and waited until he had reached the door before she added, “And has everything been arranged for the removal of the painting?” She couldn’t bring herself to mention the artist’s name.
“Yes, m’lady,” Andrews replied, turning back to face his mistress. “The picture will have been dispatched before you come down for breakfast.”
“And has everything been prepared for Dr. Petrescu’s visit?”
“Yes, m’lady,” repeated Andrews. “Dr. Petrescu is expected around midday on Wednesday, and I have already informed cook that she will be joining you for lunch in the conservatory.”
“Thank you, Andrews,” said Victoria. The butler gave a slight bow and quietly closed the heavy oak door behind him.
By the time Dr. Petrescu arrived, one of the family’s most treasured heirlooms would be on its way to America, and although the masterpiece would never be seen at Wentworth Hall again, no one outside the immediate family need be any the wiser.
Victoria folded her napkin and rose from the table. She picked up Dr. Petrescu’s report and walked out of the dining room and into the hall. The sound of her shoes echoed in the marble hallway. She paused at the foot of the staircase to admire Gainsborough’s full-length portrait of Catherine, Lady Wentworth, who was dressed in a magnificent long silk and taffeta gown, set off by a diamond necklace and matching earrings. Victoria touched her ear and smiled at the thought that such an extravagant bauble must have been considered quite risqué at the time.
Victoria looked steadfastly ahead as she climbed the wide marble staircase to her bedroom on the first floor. She felt unable to look into the eyes of her ancestors, brought to life by Romney, Lawrence, Reynolds, Lely, and Kneller, conscious of having let them all down. Victoria accepted that before she retired to bed she must finally write to her sister and let her know the decision she had come to.
Arabella was so wise and sensible. If only her beloved twin had been born a few minutes earlier rather than a few minutes later, then she would have inherited the estate and undoubtedly handled the problem with considerably more panache. And worse, when Arabella learned the news, she would neither complain nor remonstrate, just continue to display the family’s stiff upper lip.
Victoria closed the bedroom door, walked across the room, and placed Dr. Petrescu’s report on her desk. She undid her bun, allowing the hair to cascade onto her shoulders. She spent the next few minutes brushing her hair before taking off her clothes and slipping on a silk nightgown, which a maid had laid out on the end of the bed. Finally she stepped into her bedroom slippers. Unable to avoid the responsibility any longer, she sat down at her writing desk and picked up her fountain pen.
September 10th, 2001
My dearest Arabella,
I have put off writing this letter for far too long, as you are the last person who deserves to learn such distressing news.
When dear Papa died and I inherited the estate, it was some time before I appreciated the full extent of the debts he had run up. I fear my lack of business experience, coupled with crippling death duties, only exacerbated the problem.
I thought the answer was to borrow even more, but that has simply made matters worse. At one point I feared that because of my naïveté we might even end up having to sell our family’s estate. But I am pleased to tell you that a solution has been found.
On Wednesday, I will be seeing—
Victoria thought she heard the bedroom door open. She wondered which of her servants would have considered entering the room without knocking.
By the time Victoria had turned to find out who it was, she was already standing by her side.
Victoria stared up at a woman she had never seen before. She was young, slim, and even shorter than Victoria. She smiled sweetly, which made her appear vulnerable. Victoria returned her smile, and then noticed she was carrying a kitchen knife in her right hand.
“Who—” began Victoria as a hand shot out, grabbed her by the hair, and snapped her head back against the chair. Victoria felt the thin, razor-sharp blade as it touched the skin of her neck. In one swift movement the knife sliced open her throat as if she were a lamb being sent to slaughter.
Moments before Victoria died, the young woman cut off her left ear.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey Archer. All rights reserved.