Cutting to the Chase
Rarely has the title of a book been so apt as that of Jeffrey Archer's latest collection of short fiction, To Cut a Long Story Short. Some of these tales are only two or three pages long, and Archer acknowledges that he's making an effort to play to the minimalist strengths of parables and fables. More than half of these pieces are based on true stories with reaffirming, positive messages, and more often than not they feature O. Henry-type twist endings.
Standouts include "A Change of Heart," where a prejudiced white South African man learns the error of his ways when his life is saved by a black benefactor. "The Letter" is a clever and entertaining read about a woman who receives a letter from her lover that she proceeds to read at the breakfast table across from her oblivious husband. In "Too Many Coincidences," a wife forfeits her husband in order to marry the gentleman of her dreams, only to learn too late that what appears to be too good to be true, often is.
One of the best representations of Archer's narrative skills is in "The Endgame," the longest piece in the collection. Wealthy entrepreneur Cornelius Barrington decides to test those people closest to him in an effort to find out their true characters. Barrington, with his closest friend and lawyer, Frank Vincent, devises a plan where he claims bankruptcy and willingly puts his mansion and all his many treasures up on the bidding block. Barrington had previously made loans to his brother, sister, nephew and housekeeper and now asks that they be repaid immediately. As he suspects, his family members begin to show their true colors when arguing over his fortune and making exorbitant bids on their favorite items in his house, even while failing to repay their debts. Here, Archer puts all of his talent to good use in presenting a tale full of well-wrought characterization, playful subplots, and a cheerful atmosphere that still offers up all the moral imperative of a refined allegory.
The red herrings abound as Archer weaves lighthearted, sometimes whimsical stories with an air of intrigue. To Cut a Long Story Short will allow the reader a chance to delve deep into the rich textures and inventive surprises of classically well-told tales.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes, Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. He has sold more than 100 stories to the anthologies Future Crimes, Bad News, The Conspiracy Files, and Best of the American West II. An omnibus collection of 40 stories titled )Deep into That Darkness Peering is also available. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.