Onyx reviews: To Cut
a Long Story Short by Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer is the O. Henry of the modern era. He write uncomplicated
stories about people in familiar situations, then throws in a twist at the end
that takes the reader completely by surprise, even when the reader knows to
expect a twist.
In To Cut a Long Story Short, Archer's fourth story collection, the
author has grown to rely more and more on tales based on true incidents. Only
five of the fourteen stories are completely fictional; the others are based on
anecdotes told to him as he travels around the world.
In the opening story, "The Expert Witness," a firearms expert is shown
in two different settings, one in which he testifies for the defense and one for
the prosecution. The defense attorney, who also happens to be the expert's
golfing partner, uses the same information to portray the man to the jury in a
completely different light, depending on whether the witness is on his side or
"The Endgame" describes a plot created by an elderly man about to
rewrite his will. He decides to test his prospective beneficiaries to see how
their attitudes toward him would change were he to become destitute. "Chalk
and Cheese" tells of two brothers (sibling rivalry is a common theme in
Archer novels), one artistic, the other predictable but ultimately successful.
Their mother favors the artistic child, who in fact has virtually no talent
whatsoever, and the elder brother discreetly enables him to live his slothful
life by lending him a continual stream of never-to-be-repaid cash.
The true story "A Change of Heart" demonstrates how one of South
Africa's strongest supporters of apartheid could become an advocate of social
change after a life-altering experience opens his eyes. The very short
"Love at First Sight" is a charming vignette that takes place between
platforms in the London underground.
"Both Sides Against the Middle," is a droll story of a petty criminal
who lives in a house that straddles the border between Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland. He thwarts the local police by retreating to whichever side
of the house is most convenient at the time. A retiring police chief makes it
his mission to put the man out of business before his last day of work is over.
The collection closes with a poignant tale, "The Grass is Always
Greener...," which uses a continually shifting point of view, like a camera
on a dolly, starting with a homeless man who sleeps outside a London bank and
moving steadily up the chain of command inside the bank to middle management,
upper management and finally to the president and CEO, to show how each one, in
his own turn, covets the "easy life" of the next person above or below
him in society.
Archer has also published a dozen novels, is a member of the British House of
Lords and was a Member of Parliament until some indiscretions brought that
career to an end. He can also often be seen as a commentator on morning
television presenting matters of British high society to American audiences.
The characters in his tales reflect the elevated circles in which Archer moves.
For the most part they are aristocrats, globetrotters free to take a weekend
jaunt to Paris, known by name in posh dining establishments. Even so, Archer
keeps them from being beyond the realm of the average reader. Because there can
be so much at stake for these characters—inheritances, careers, standing in
society—Archer's playground for twists is rich and diverse.
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