Jeffrey (Howard) Archer 1940–
English novelist and short story writer.
A former member of the British Parliament, Archer is the author of several best-selling novels. He wrote his first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less (1976), after being a victim of a million-dollar swindle similar to the one described in that novel. Shall We Tell the President? (1977) is an imaginary account of the presidency of Edward M. Kennedy and was faulted for the sensationalism of the plot, which ends in Kennedy's death. Archer's most popular works, Kane and Abel (1979) and its sequel The Prodigal Daughter (1982), are sagas of two business rivals and their children.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
[Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less] has about as much substance as a soap bubble, but it is quite entertaining. It has to do with the efforts of four men—a professor, a doctor, an art gallery owner, and an English Lord—to retrieve from a slippery con man, who has all the charm of a pailful of hissing snakes, the million dollars they invested in his nonexistent oil company in the North Sea…. The book forces us to accept the most outrageous unlikelihoods of plot, but, by the same token, it doesn't put us under the slightest cerebral strain.
A. J. Anderson, in a review of "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, May 1, 1976; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1976 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 101, No. 9, May 1, 1976, p. 1141.
[Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less] is fascinating…. The story contains some interesting character development, a clear and plausible story line, and its share of suspense. Even the ending is not completely expected. Perhaps the reason it all works out so well in the telling is that Mr. Archer really has his heart in it—the book jacket relates that he wrote the book after being bilked of a million dollars in a stock deal. For his first effort, it is well done. Who knows, he may recover his million from the book.
Charles J. Keffer, in a review of "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1976 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 36, No. 4, July, 1976, p. 106.
[Archer] has written a tale [Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less] about four men who, collectively, are cheated out of a million dollars and who resolve to steal back the money from the swindler. There could be a moral here for other public figures who have seen their financial dreams dissolve. We have had plenty of "inside" political novels, by Douglas Hurd and others, so why not the inside business novel?
Jeffrey Archer's ingenious plot, with its echoes of Edgar Wallace and vintage Sexton Blake, is the sort to take the public fancy. The novel has a curious racy innocence all its own. It is told with that name-dropping and logging of train times that is thought to lend authenticity…. There are walk-on parts for people as diverse as Lord Lichfield, Linda Lovelace and Harold Macmillan. Yet sophisticated it is not….
The pace is quick, but would have been quicker if the author had not lingered to tell us irrelevant facts about the staffing of The Times, the square footage of the American embassy in London and so on. The reader has time to strain at gobbets he might otherwise have swallowed….
E. S. Turner, "Four Unjust Men," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3887, September 10, 1976, p. 1098.
["Shall We Tell the President?"] is a commonplace thriller whose main interest lies in its political predictions and whose main flaw is that its premise—nicely tricked up to appeal to the vaguely liberal instincts of the people who turn novels into movies—is utterly fanciful and politically absurd.
It is 1981. Edward M. Kennedy has been elected President, with Dale Bumpers of Arkansas as his Vice President…. Here is part of his inaugural address: "My fellow Americans, as I take office the problems facing the United States across the world are vast and threatening. In South Africa, pitiless civil war rages between black and white; in the Middle East the ravages of last year's war are being repaired, but …" So much for the interesting part; the rest is written in prose almost as scintillating. Why [the publisher] thinks anybody will lay out $8.95 when he can read the newspapers for 20 cents is beyond me. Some of it is even duller, blow by blow automatic writing: "The light turned green, but a car ahead of Marc and Barry in the inside lane wanted to make a left turn on First Street. For the moment, the two impatient F.B.I. men were trapped in a line of traffic." As if getting stuck in traffic were not tiresome enough, Archer thinks we want to read about it.
For all of that, if you can swallow the premise, suspend a good deal of disbelief and tolerate the prose, "Shall We Tell the President?" is rather ingeniously...
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[Archer's] use of living politicians, presumably intended to distinguish his [Shall We Tell the President?] from the common run of post-Watergate whodunnits, backfires. The plot is implausible, the senators are shadows. Edward Kennedy is little more than a name on the dustcover. Even so, Mr. Archer has deeply offended the two Kennedy widows, who know that their brother-in-law still receives threats from anonymous letter writers, are aware of the special nature of the risk he will run if he ever seeks the Presidency, and must wonder whether this kind of sensationalism might not increase that risk. At all events, it was a sick idea—and the result is a silly, imperceptive book.
Charles Wheeler, "Gunning for Office," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3944, October 28, 1977, p. 1258.
Jeffrey Archer's [Shall We Tell the President?] creaks with keenness to straighten out for you every fact in his dossiers. Here's a plot to shoot President Edward Kennedy, and plausible enough it's made, especially if you like watching repeats of old movies. There's even a nicely developed if obvious set of parallels with Julius Caesar—man and drama. But it's the manner of the author's address to his narrative that irks most. He's a swot who will show off his busyness about the Washington street-map, constitutional amendments, FBI history and the layout of the Senate. Naturally, the FBI agent who unravels the plot spends his time posing as a student doing research, for what else has his author been doing?...
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Kane and Abel is … [about survival over a long time-span] involving two principals—a Boston banker named William Kane, and a Polish immigrant to the US, one Abel Rosnovski…. Inhabitants of different social worlds, their paths cross initially when Kane's bank withdraws crucial support for the first American who gave Abel a break, thereby triggering off the benefactor's suicide. For this, Kane is never forgiven, and is thereafter pursued by the Pole through thick and thin in a vendetta which sets Wall Street alight.
If you detect in all this a whiff of schmaltz, then your senses are in good working order. No doubt it will sell well in its blockbusting way; but so does Kentucky fried...
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A Boston-Brahmin banker. A rags-to-riches immigrant hotelking. Two intermittently interesting, mostly clichéd life stories (1906–1967)—which unsubtle Archer (Shall We Tell the President?) has linked up [in Kane and Abel] using coincidences that belong only in Italian opera and plot secrets that only Dickens could get away with (and did)…. So how do these two heroes—both of them tiresomely brilliant and decent—hook up? Well, there's a brief teasing glimpse of waiter Abel serving William at the Plaza Hotel. But the real connection is made after Abel has become the indispensable right-hand man of a midwest hotelier: when the 1929 Crash comes, Abel and his boss need help from William's bank,...
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["Kane and Abel"] is a family saga that is overweight but undernourished. Jeffrey Archer, a former British M.P., is a writer unskilled at showing you how things are. He merely tells you what they are. (Florentyna "put on the prettiest dress." Anne Kane "enjoyed a light lunch.") Descriptions that don't describe contribute an air of staleness to the atmosphere. In this thin climate, Abel crosses the sea to America and becomes a hotel baron. (He names each hotel The Baron because his father was one.) Kane takes over the family bank and has occasion to incur Abel's enmity. It's really a big misunderstanding, but there isn't enough life in either of these parties to make you care if they ever make up. (pp. 9, 15)...
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With the exception of a sad tale of adultery in New York, [the dozen stories in A Quiver full of Arrows] could all have been written at any time since 1910—there is a bow to Somerset Maugham and a cricketing story straight out of Boy's Own Paper. The only sign of modernity is the use of names: ever since Ian Fleming brand names have been used as a substitute for authenticity, and Archer names faces as well as brands, asserting that all the stories but one are based on known incidents….
Jeffrey Archer has knocked about a bit, and it is interesting to see what themes concern this man of the world. There is clearly a nostalgia for the social securities of Oxford and Cambridge and...
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"Kane & Abel," Jeffrey Archer's previous best seller, chronicled the blood feud of two powerful men. In this sequel, ["The Prodigal Daughter,"] Abel's daughter, Florentyna Rosnovski, marries Kane's son and then goes on to the Vice Presidency.
Florentyna is so flawless she makes other flawless heroines look as faulty as rhinestones. By the time of her birth, Abel, once a poor immigrant, is a rich hotel baron and can buy her anything she wants or needs…. [When] she meets and marries Richard Kane (handsome, rich, brilliant, charming, etc) the two feuding fathers won't speak to the young couple and cut them off without a cent. Never mind, this perfect pair can do anything….
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If you're expecting another prodigal son parable here, forget it.
Although separation and reunion are part of this multifaceted contemporary novel ["The Prodigal Daughter"] by the English author of "Kane and Abel," they are but a minor part. And other themes—just as those other themes in the biblical parable—are more provocative.
Through his primary character, Florentyna Rosnovski, Archer probes such intriguing topics as power, politics, pride, parochialism and prejudice. He also deals with some old-fashioned virtues—fidelity, honor and integrity as they affect this only child of a Polish immigrant who has amassed a huge fortune by hard work and canny—but mostly...
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[A Quiver Full of Arrows] relies more on ironic twists and carefully constructed surprises for its overall effect than on plot or character development. In the single standout. "Old Love"—in which a married couple's intense rivalry continues up to the very moment of their deaths—Archer's desultory, almost impersonal style is displayed to greatest advantage, brilliantly understating the strength of the bonds of love; the other stories have the vaguely unsatisfying feel of anecdotes embellished to story length. Taken together, they make for a passably entertaining unit, though separately they more resemble flimsy darts instead of the "arrows" of the collection's title. (pp. 2107-08)
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After the enormous commercial success of his recent novels, "Kane and Abel" and "The Prodigal Daughter," one can easily understand why Jeffrey Archer and his publisher would bring out a collection of his short stories. But it is difficult to comprehend what conceivable enjoyment readers will derive from the sophomoric fictions in "A Quiver Full of Arrows," which suggest the author is unaware that the genre has made strides since the days of O. Henry.
In a prefatory note, Mr. Archer writes, "Of these eleven short stories, ten are based on known incidents…. Only one is totally the result of my own imagination. 'The Luncheon' was inspired by W. Somerset Maugham." While it is worth wondering who, if...
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