This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Cat O' Nine Tales: Review

Genre:Literature & Fiction
Author:Jeffrey Archer
If old soldiers don’t die, but just fade away, what happens to old authors?

To be more precise, should authors who have lost the spark keep writing?

I used to be a fan of Jeffrey Archer, pre-imprisonment. Not of his novels, which I always found either trite (“Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less”) or stultifying (“Kane and Abel”) – but of his short story collections, which were almost all of very high standards. So I bought this one, pages unturned.

Verdict: I shall never buy Archer again.

Tip to an aspiring author – if you want to write about places you haven’t visited, at least get someone to tell you something about them. Two of Archer’s stories are set in places I know intimately: St Petersburg, Russia, and Mumbai, India. Just these two are so riddled with errors and gasp-inducing idiocies that one doesn’t really need to delve further.

Time was when I used to read the stories for boys set in India with Indian maharajas abounding or with characters called Mr Bombay, Mr Calcutta and the like. I thought those days were extinct – till I opened up Archer’s Indian story and found someone called Anil Khan. Anil Khan!!! I can, you know, just see Archer taking the first name of one Indian acquaintance and the last of another and pasting them together, thinking he’s made a good equivalent of making a Thomas Stafford out of John Stafford and Thomas Jones. Oh yes.

As for the St Petersburg story, which involves a medical miracle – a water-borne disease which is simultaneously highly contagious – he has his characters going through the Hermitage in one morning and going over by taxi for a tour of Petrodvorets in the afternoon. Advice to readers going to St Petersburg – don’t try that feat.

The rest of the stories are all set in the standard places, England and America, except one that’s placed in Greece. Going by the Indian and Russian stories, the Greek one’s likely to be the same mash-up.

Now I might have forgiven all these blunders if the writing had been good. It isn’t. It’s bland and totally tasteless, meanders aimlessly, and with the single exception of a delightful little tale of a greedy gold-digging wife and a hapless surgeon husband in divorce court, there is not one story that matches up to Archer’s previous standard. The idea of at least one’s a direct lift from O Henry – the story of a crook who tries to spend each winter in jail by deliberately committing a small crime and being caught for it.

Sorry, Jeff. Time to try growing mushrooms, or something. You’re past it.

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