14 January 2008

Book Review: Cat o’ Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer

888 Challenge #1

Cat o’ Nine Tales The nine tales of the title are all based on stories Archer gathered while doing time for perjury. So naturally they are tales of crime, and of crime that hasn’t paid ... in the short term, at least. The Commissioner tells of a career conman whose attempts at blackmail earn him a promotion he can’t refuse - but wishes he could. A chess piece in The Red King sees another con artist play two brothers against each other, only to get done for the wrong crime. The Alibi sees a man set up what appears to be a perfect alibi, while the protagonist of Don’t Drink the Water devises a seemingly perfect crime - and neither goes quite as planned. In addition to these, there are three more stories unlinked to Her Majesty’s prisons, including my favourite The Wisdom of Solomon, in which a gold-digger’s plans backfire.

It’s been years since I’ve read any of Archer’s short stories, or indeed any Archer at all, and it was good to get reacquainted. This was just as good as any of his other collections, with the difference (I think) that all the stories here are based on reality, which I don’t recall being the case with the other books. (Impossible not to wonder where embellishment ends and reality begins.) The beauty of these tales is in the clever plotting and twist endings; I’d love to have ideas like those (I’ll pass, though, on going to jail to get them). What I found interesting was that some of the stories contained enough details that an enterprising reader could conceivably attempt to replicate the scams - if they could only find a way to avoid the characters’ pitfalls. I wonder if anyone will?

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776