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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This collection of sometimes intriguing, sometimes obvious stories is best suited to a series of short car trips rather than one long one: the listener tends to catch on fast to the O'Henry-esque endings, so the stories are less entertaining all at a gulp. And some might well have been cut shorter. Archer is least successful when the surprise endings turn solely on legal technicalities--as in "Crime Pays" and "Both Sides Against the Middle"--but a lot of fun when he interweaves legal issues with the relationships among the characters--as he does so well in "The Expert Witness" and "The End Game." These two particular stories also work well because, just when listeners think they've got the surprise ending, the plot thickens and twists again and then again. Some of the pieces are based on true incidents. In "A Change of Heart," for example, a South African bigot causes a car accident. The driver of the other car dies, and the bigot's life is saved by a heart transplant--the heart of the black man he killed in the accident. These are lighthearted stories, and Bill Wallace's reading is marvelous. He has a pleasing voice and crisp British accent that are entirely appropriate here, and he knows how to handle humor, irony and character differentiation without overdoing it. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Forecasts, Dec. 11, 2000). (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Thrillmeister Archer cuts to the chase: a new collection of short stories. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
“Will keep your blood pressure high and you'll risk back injury just from being kept on the edge of your seat...I guarantee that anyone who takes this book from the shelves will not be able to put it down.” The Spectator (UK) on The Sins of the Father
“[Archer] is a master of fiction...Jeffrey Archer has the strange gift denied to many who think themselves more serious novelists. He can tell a story, and he does so with such conviction, such appealing naivety, that you suspend disbelief, and read happily on.” The Scotsman (UK) on The Sins of the Father
“ Archer can plot a story.” Kirkus Reviews on The Sins of the Father
Read an Excerpt
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
The Expert Witness
'Damn good drive,' said Toby, as he watched his opponent's ball sail through the air. 'Must be every inch of 230, perhaps even 250 yards,' he added, as he held up his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun, and continued to watch the ball bouncing down the middle of the fairway.
'Thank you,' said Harry.
'What did you have for breakfast this morning, Harry?' Toby asked when the ball finally came to a halt.
'A row with my wife,' came back his opponent's immediate reply. 'She wanted me to go shopping with her this morning.'
'I'd be tempted to get married if I thought itwould improve my golf that much,' said Toby as he addressed his ball. 'Damn,' he added a moment later, as he watched his feeble effort squirt towards the heavy rough no more than a hundred yards from where he stood.
Toby's game did not improve on the back nine, and when they headed for the clubhouse just before lunch, he warned his opponent, 'I shall have to take my revenge in court next week.'
'I do hope not,' said Harry, with a laugh.
'Why's that?' asked Toby as they entered the clubhouse.
'Because I'm appearing as an expert witness on your side,' Harry replied as they sat down for lunch.
'Funny,' Toby said. 'I could have sworn you were against me.'
Sir Toby Gray QC and Professor Harry Bamford were not always on the same side when they met up in court.
'All manner of persons who have anything to do before My Lords the Queen's Justices draw near and give your attendance.'
The Leeds Crown Court was now sitting. Mr. Justice Fenton presided.
Sir Toby eyed the elderly judge. A decent and fair man, he considered, though his summings-up, could be a trifle long-winded. Mr Justice Fenton nodded down from the bench.
Sir Toby rose from his place, to open the defence case. 'May it please Your Lordship, members of the jury, I am aware of the great responsibility that rests on my shoulders. To defend a man charged with murder can never be easy. It is made even more difficult when the victim is his wife, to whom he had been happily married for over twenty years. This the Crown has accepted, indeed formally admitted.
'My task is not made any easier, m'lud,' continued Sir Toby, 'when all the circumstantial evidence, so adroitly presented by my learned friend Mr Rodgers in his opening speech yesterday, would on the face of it make the defendant appear guilty. However,' said Sir Toby, grasping the tapes of his black silk gown and turning to face the jury, 'I intend to call a witness whose reputation is beyond reproach. I am confident that he will leave you, members of the jury, with little choice but to return a verdict of not guilty. I call Professor Harold Bamford.'
A smartly dressed man, wearing a blue double-breasted suit, white shirt and a Yorkshire County Cricket Club tie, entered the courtroom and took his place in the witness box. He was presented with a copy of the New Testament, and read the oath with a confidence that would have left no member of the jury in any doubt that this wasn't his first appearance at a murder trial...