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12 good tales
on 22 December 2005
Jeffrey Archer's 'Twelve Red Herrings' are imaginative, well-written short stories. Archer (now Lord Archer, the variously popular-then-disgraced-then-popular-currently-disgraced Tory almost-leader) is better known for his novels, but has proven himself to be a good author of short stories as well.
Each of the twelve tales in the collection contains an unexpected twist in the character or outcome, something that Archer is good at providing in most plots he's written. Archer seems to have the knack of taking one idea and spinning it, like a spider's web coming from one small strand, into a very fine and very wide reaching net that catches you and keeps you involved until the end.
In 'Cheap at Half the Price' we are introduced to Consuela Rosenheim, a woman with expensive tastes which require both a wealthy husband and wealthy lover to satisfy, working in concert but each unwitting of the other. Her procurement of a necklace is a wonderful story.
In 'Trial and Error' we follow Cooper on an ingenious plot for revenge, to finally carry out the murder for which he has already been sentenced and convicted, knowing that due to the construct of the law, the murder cannot be punished (he has already been convicted and served his time).
The final story is my favourite, and of course you will, as I did, read all the endings: Archer provides a brief tale of desire-at-first-sight and the variations on the theme; how will it turn out? A question we often ask in life, and wonder will it end up well done or burnt to a crisp? Using this analogy, 'One Man's Meat...' follows a man who sees a beautiful woman while driving by, and stops to pursue her. What will happen? Is she single or married? Is HE single or married? Will she be flattered or offended? In the four alternate endings to this tale, the reader experiences each alternative.
This is good bedtime reading, as most of the stories can be finished in under half-an-hour. For those who have not read Archer before, this is a good introduction to his storytelling style. This will not be confused for great literature, but is definitely a good yarn.