I have never been so enthralled to hear 14 short stories of Jeffrey Archer again (after the deceptively good Cat O’Nine Tales). Had this as an audiobook playing in my car while driving up north and the entire journey was made ever so entertaining!
Short stories — To Cut a Long Story Short:
- Death Speaks
- The Expert Witness
- The Endgame
- The Letter
- Crime Pays
- Chalk and Cheese
- A Change of Heart
- Too Many Coincidences
- Love at First Sight
- Both Sides Against the Middle
- A Weekend to Remember
- Something for Nothing
- Other Blighters’ Efforts
- The Reclining Woman
- The Grass is Always Greener
Fraud, deceit, deception, lying, bankruptcy, infidelity: these are the recurrent themes that concern Jeffrey Archer in his fourth collection of short stories, To Cut a Long Story Short. Of the 14 stories gathered here, nine are asterisked as being “based on true incidents” but the whole collection is remarkable for the extent to which Archer’s own chequered career finds echoes in his fiction. In “Crime Pays“, Kenny Merchant–“that wasn’t his real name, but then, little was real about Kenny” finds an ingenious loophole in the Data Protection Act to make a financial killing, while in “The Letter” a wife enjoys reading a kinky love letter from her lover (a well-known novelist) in front of her husband. Her lover recalls making love in “the loo at the Caprice” and fantasizes about “being tied to a four-poster bed, with you standing over me in a police sergeant’s uniform”.
In one of the few stories that does not involve people conning one another, “The Grass is Greener”, the moral of the story appears to be that the head of an international bank experiences more pain and personal turmoil than Bill the beggar who sits on the street outside. In “A Change of Heart“, a racist white South African devotes himself to doing good for the black community after receiving a black man’s heart following a near-fatal car accident. Archer’s fans will undoubtedly enjoy this collection but other readers may find its relish for duplicity rather dubious or at best find its sentimental morality rather cloying.
“Something for Nothing” is inspired by a real story. Jake, a New York City father making a routine telephone call to his elderly mother, overhears another conversation in which instructions are given to pick up an envelope containing $100,000. Jake dashes out of his apartment and intercepts the loot before the intended recipient, but discovers that nothing is ever as foolproof as it sounds.
“A Weekend to Remember” features bachelor-hotel owner Tony Romanelli and a sexy arts writer named Susie. Tony prides himself on being able to read if a woman is interested by the feel of her greeting or parting hug, but he reads the wrong story in Susie’s enthusiastic squeeze. Perhaps cutting these fictions short was a mistake, their complex premises demanding lengthier elaboration.
My favourite story was that of the rich old man who wanted to know which one of his family and friends loves him for himself and not for his money. “The Endgame” starts with the multimillionaire declaring himself bankrupt with the help of his lawyer. The characters move as predictably as the chess pieces on the valuable set that is the focal point of the tale and show their true colors within days.