Strange But True

Book Review: And Thereby Hangs a Tale by Jeffrey Archer

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

He has penned numerous bestsellers, done a stint as an M.P. (Member of Parliament), followed by a stint in prison, stopped by the House of Lords, and been in and out of politics. Somewhere along the way he also made ‘life peer’. He is Jeffrey Archer –successful British author and failed politician, who has a knack for turning his fortunes around. His lordship has been front page news for years. He is no stranger to celebrity or infamy and is someone who seems to juggle these roles (as author, politician and jailbird) better than most.

Archers first book – ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less’, written after his close encounter with near-bankruptcy was an instant bestseller.  In later life, his courtroom ordeal became a stage play (Archer dabbles in playwriting) titled ‘The Accused’ and two years in prison ended up as a three part volume aptly named ‘A Prison Diary’ – Hell (Part 1), Purgatory (Part II) & Heaven (Part III). Another well known work – ‘Kane and Abel’ has been recently revised for its 30th anniversary. Other stories have been adapted for stage, television, and film.

Now Archer is back with a new book – this time it is a delightful set of fifteen short stories out of which ten are based on real incidents and five are borne of pure fantasy. He picked up this relatively light blend of ‘strange but true’ collection during his travels. In the hands of a superb storyteller such as Archer the simplest of storylines assume fantastic proportions. The fact that he is a contemporary writer who manages to keep his plot moving without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade is a refreshing change. Graphic details are kept to an absolute minimum and the emphasis is on the story – like it used to be in the good old days.

‘And Thereby Hangs a Tale’ is his sixth book of short stories.

The journey begins with an ingenious con by a couple up to no good (according to the law of the land) and ends with a fairy tale ‘in the making’ about a couple up to no good (according to the laws of their sect). Midway readers can spend time with a bumbling diplomat in the ‘Un-diplomatic Diplomat’ – a fellow who managed to create strife between tribes that had lived in peace for centuries or accompany Alan Penfold on his first case, ‘which one never forgets’ – as he is constantly reminded, in ‘High Heels’. Or, like Archer one can do time with Benny the Fence in ‘Double Cross’.

The fact that so many of these stories are based on true incidents is an added attraction. Part of the allure lies in trying to spot the originals. The more outrageous tales happen to be true. Be they real or imagined, most, if not all the stories deliver on all counts.

Whether it is a simple matter of ‘The Queens Birthday Telegram’ in which a Centenarian must fence with the Queen’s staff or something more involving like ‘Members Only’ where a golf clubs won at a raffle – and one golf ball set events in motion that change the course of a young man life – the book promises to keep readers riveted till the end. Also featured is a fresh variation of the tried and tested ‘sneaky nurse tricks family out of fortune’ routine in ‘Where There’s a Will’.

The final story will appeal to the South Asian audience as it concerns a real life Indian fairy tale (of sorts) which has all the elements needed to turn it into a soppy little film. Picture this. Boy in open top red Porsche meets girl in Ferrari on a busy road – Ferrari speeds away, Porsche follows and thus begins a cross continental pursuit and a story arc that would make any Director from the Subcontinent proud. Additions like ‘Caste Off’ and ‘A Good Eye’ give the requisite multicultural tinge to this trek that takes one across Europe, America and South Asia.

The fictional side of the book is equally charming. Some like ‘Politically Correct’ deal with a deputy bank manager Arnold Pennyworthy’s very understandable paranoia in a post 7/7 Britain and the alarm bells set off by that dodgy looking new neighbour. Others like the ‘Blind Date’ are short and sweet.

Are some of these offerings predictable? Yes. But they are enjoyable nevertheless.  The author is also seen playing with the supernatural in one case where a certain ‘Mr. De Ath’ comes up with an interesting proposition for the dying Chairman.

‘There may not be a book in every one of us but there is so often a dashed good short story’, Archer happily proclaims in the foreword. ‘And Thereby Hangs a Tale’ is a nifty little book that is both smart and sassy and thoroughly satisfying.

Afrah Jamal is a freelance journalist and can be reached at http://www.afrahjamal.blogspot.com

And Thereby Hangs a Tale is available at all Liberty Books outlets and here.

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