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"A Twist in the Tale" is a collection of short stories by Jeffrey Archer. I must admit I like short story collections when they are by good authors. I have read previous collection by Jeffrey Archer and thoroughly enjoyed them so I was eagerly anticipating this 12 story collection. As with a lot of his work the language and time tends to be set in the past. For example in one story a character is asked if he knows what DNA is. Amazingly the answer is no, so it is explained to the reader. I suppose when the book was published in 1988 the general population were probably unaware of DNA but it seems strange now. Also, this is another problem with this collection; I feel that the standard of thriller and twist writing has increased exponentially so these twists can seem very predictable if you read a lot of thrillers.
In a short note before the tales begin Jeffrey Archer explains that 10 of the
12 stories are based on real life stories he has picked up (and embellished) on his travels and 2 are figments of his imagination. A quick google search failed to reveal the two figments of imagination but this knowledge adds (slightly) to the stories.
Looking at the stories individually:
"The Perfect Murder"
I enjoyed this story; it was easy to read and was an enjoyable tale about a man who was due to visit his mistress at her house. She calls off in the hours before the due meeting. Annoyed he turns up to try and persuade her to reconsider only to find another man leaving her flat, obviously after a romantic liaison. After a violent confrontation the man leaves and goes home. When the woman is announced dead the following day he has to try and lay the blame at the feet of the other man.
The story mainly centres on the trial. It does not go into a lot of detail but instead provides a general overview of each day's events. Being the inpatient type I had already checked which page the story finished on. This caused me a bit of confusion as the story reached its conclusion. I expected
"A Twist in the Tale" to have a twist! It does, but with the final sentence, in
fact really two words of the whole story. I initially felt a bit cheated with this, as it seemed extremely unlikely, but on further thinking about it is quite clever but I felt a little ambushed! (7/10).
"Clean Sweep Ignatius"
This is the story of a Nigerian Finance Minister who launches a campaign to rid corruption in his country. This is a very short story at around 10 pages. I felt that the twist was a bit more obvious in this one but the story was a little more plausible than the first one. A decent quick read (6/10)
"A la Carte"
One of the poorer stories in the collection. It tells of a young man who is desperate to work at a local factory but his father has far grander ideas for his son. In agreement for him not joining the factory, his father will not stand in his way of joining it in a years time as long as he does a year somewhere else. The story covers his time at a restaurant, through to the thirty or so years in the future. Whilst it is an enjoyable enough read there is no twist to speak of and I was left feeling rather disappointed by the end of it. (3/10)
"Not the Real Thing"
A similar length story which covers a man's rise through the English elite. It opens with him stealing his friend's wife to be and charts their lives together. The twist in this one is again a little bit obvious but it has a decent ending which left me with a smile on my face. (5/10)
"Just Good Friends"
Really disappointing story, twist is so obvious I began to think there must be a double twist, sadly not. A pointless story, the sole redeeming thing is how short it is. It could have been decent had it been written more intelligently and the twist not been telegraphed on page three. (1/10)
A bizarre story, it's about a couple who travel abroad regularly and always look for a "steal" from the local area. In this case they are looking for a carpet or rug in Turkey. Bumping into another couple from their home town they travel to a local market to find the steal. I can't say too much more without giving the story away. What I will say is that there is no real twist and the story just kind of peters out. Sadly, another disappointment. (3/10)
Forcing myself to carry on, this was a story about Second World War prisoners of war who were held in a Japanese camp. The story follows a few of the men through to the end of one of their lives. Again, the twist wasn't exactly unexpected and boiled down to almost a 50/50, either outcome being pretty similar. A decent enough story though (4/10)
I had been disappointed with the twists so far. This story was probably the second most obvious in terms of forecasting its ending. There probably isn't a person alive who hasn't heard a variance of it. Thankfully short at 10 pages it was a decent enough read but in a collection of supposed twists it is sadly out of place. (2/10)
"The Wine Taster"
A story more in line with what I was expecting. It covers a bet between the chairman of the local wine club and a loudmouthed rich man. The challenge is set to see if the chairman can name four unlabelled wines with reasonably high stakes. It has a reasonable twist and is one of the better stories. (7/10)
"A Chapter of Accidents"
This was a story I really enjoyed. It covered a husband trying to get revenge on a man who he assumed had slept with his wife. It is cleverly written and is open-ended enough to leave the reader with a few options when trying to guess the twist. I did not guess the outcome for this one and it was my joint-favourite story in the collection. (9/10)
Another reasonable story picking up on the vagaries of the English law. It's a decent read but not an unexpected twist (in terms of the bigger picture, not the detail). (6/10)
I have been typing these notes as I finished each story and found that having initially been disappointed by the opener, I was not viewing it as one of the stronger stories. I was hoping Jeffrey Archer had held back the best story 'til the end. I was not disappointed. This is a great story and is comparable with his better full length novels. The only downside to this is it could have been made into a full length novel easily. There is so much detail and emotion in the 24 pages it is a real shame it is over so soon. The story focuses on a young Jewish man who falls in love with a German girl. Her family will not accept him and when she falls pregnant with his child they send her away. The story covers the next day or so years. It is reminiscent of great Archer stories like Kane & Abel. A real gem at the end of the book which just leaves you feeling even more confused at some of the substandard stories which preceded it. (9/10)
It's difficult to know how best to sum up this collection. It seems harsh to call it a disappointment when 83% of them are based on true stories. However, if you are going to quote true stories then you should at least make them entertaining and there is an argument that fiction should not be primarily based on true stories.
A long time ago I read some of Archer's other short stories, I think it was "A Quiver full of arrows". "A Twist in the Tale" does not compare with that collection.
I think the best way to sum this book up is to imagine a literary "Tales of the Unexpected". It has dated as badly as the program but was probably very entertaining at the time of release.
If you are interested in Jeffrey Archer's writing I would recommend "Kane & Abel" as his best work, I would steer clear of this collection.
For a further view on this book I would recommend "CPTDANIELS" review on dooyoo. I agreed with a lot of his thoughts (but you will wonder if we read the same story on occasion). Sadly we agree that this book is probably not a worthwhile read, with the odd exception.
I seem to have grown up with the name Jeffrey Archer never far away. My first seeing and reading about him as a Conservative Member of Parliament. Then as a celebrated author and finally as a man convicted for Perjury. So I was keen to try one of his books which I hoped would reflect his colourful life.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Archer life story it is said would be an international bestseller, such is its variety and ups and downs. He was an accomplished athlete in his youth and later a Member of Parliament. He has written 14 fiction and 3 non-fiction books, as well as six short story books and three published plays.
About the book:
This is a collection of 12 short stories (between 10 and 50 pages long). These the author has heard, changed and embellished. They as the title suggests have an expected turn or two towards the end of the story.
· The Perfect Murder.
Good story, with interesting characters. Well written and a wonderful twist at the end of the story. 8/10
· Clean Sweep Ignatius.
Dull story about a Minister of Finance dealing with internal corruption in his country. The twist was so obvious, I was glad it was only 12 pages long. 2/10
· A La Carte.
Interesting story. That developed well with good characters and a believable plus very understandable conclusion. 6/10.
· Not the Real Thing.
About a business man who receives a gift for services to a countries development.
It is a predictable but somewhat amusing story. Too short to make it fascinating as you can't get into the characters in 20 pages. 3/10
· Just Good Friends
Story about a man and his friend. This is a story a child could have written better! It was mercilessly short, only 10 pages with a very obvious ending. 1/10
· The Steal.
About a Turkish carpet. This was well written, characters a little simplistic with not much detail on them and an obvious ending 3/10
· Colonel Bullfrog.
This was an interesting story, with good characters and a plot that you were never sure where the story was going, which for me was good. With a very expected conclusion.6/10
About two chess club members. Interesting if somewhat unbelievable story, with good characters and well written plot. Unexpected twist to this. 6/10.
· The Wine Taster.
Good if slightly predictable characters in a well written short story. Very short though only 18pages, with a good twist to the tale. 4/10
· A Chapter of Accidents.
About a man who wants to kill a rival who he believes has slept with his wife. Poor characterisation with an obvious and predictable conclusion. 2/10
· The Loophole.
Good and well written story with contrasting characters, unexpected and fascinating conclusion. 6/10
· Christina Rosenthal.
Probably the deepest story with a quality of writing I would expect to see. It was captivating, sad but always interesting. With good unexpected twist. 8/10.
My thoughts on the whole book:
I think this was the first collection of short stories I have read since school. So it was a break from the norm for me, but I liked the idea of reading a complete story in just one sitting. While being able to move between stories if you found you could not relate to one or two of them.
That said I did struggle to really get into many of these stories. As they appeared to lack depth and a real spark to captivate me and convince me about them. With the twist often what I expected and to be honest with obvious and disappointing.
I also found the book a bit dated to be honest. I don't know if it was the author's style but I found it didn't really relate to life in the 21st century. I later found the book was written in 1989, this did not surprise me at all.
I have no doubt Mr Archer is an intelligent man and with his record (sorry about that!) of success as an excellent writer. However, I thought these stories did not do his style justice as I found them predictable and dull.
On a positive note the stories were well researched. In the author's notes at the beginning of the book he tells you that 10 are known incidents. This leaves the reader thinking about all the stories and wondering which the real ones from the made up ones were. Allowing you to decide yourself, I thought that was a good idea.
The Times suggested this book was 'Stylish, witty and constantly entertaining ... Jeffrey Archer has a natural aptitude for short stories.' Frankly I cannot agree with that, as I found his characters in the main dull and characterless and the only reason I continued reading was to find out what the twist in the tale was.
I would not recommend this collection of short stories. I was disappointed with the author's quality of writing and found it lacked inspiration.
That said I feel I must try one of Archer's best selling novels as I cannot believe they can be as bad as this and maybe a proper novel will do his work justice.
Publisher: Pan Books
Price: £6.99, Amazon: £5.49
Author's site: www.jeffreyarcher.co.uk
Thank you for reading my review.
This review was published under my user name last year on Ciao.
@CPTDANIELS April 2009