Fine Web of Suspense
by Jeffrey Archer.
Macmillan. Pages 385. £ 2.99.
It’s not often that one gets an audience with a Lord—Lord Jeffrey Archer to be precise. His reputation is legendary. I have been warned: ‘he has a temper’, ‘he can be nasty’—in short expect the worst. The questions for the (for the TV interview I am meeting him for in Singapore)are to be sent in advance and he won’t get into the bits about his jail term.
So here I am all prepared. He has, unlike some others, willingly made the trip to the studio, instead of asking the cameras to be lugged out. So, that’s the first surprise. When I go out to meet and greet him, he is sweetness personified.
"I am Deepika," I go and he’s "Great to meet you. I’m Jeffrey Archer"—as if the man needs an introduction!
Needless to say, I am stumped….
"Does that mean we can drop the Lord?" I ask, puzzled.
"Of course, we can. Jeffrey’s fine."
It’s a whirlwind promotional book tour he’s making and we’ve just made the start we need. I am almost grinning from ear to ear till he pops the next question:
"You’ve read the book of course."
The book in question being False Impression.
I explained that I only got the proof, which was printed in an unreadable 8-point font. Even with perfect vision, I was almost close to giving up. However, I persisted and just when the story was taking off with the plane crashing into the Twin Towers, an entire chapter disappeared, so I gave up.
The next thing I know is that I’ve been gifted a signed copy by the Lord himself, with a ‘Happy Reading’ etched into it.
With a beginning like that, how can I not get cracking on False Impression? That’s precisely what I did this weekend. It is Archer’s first novel after his (in)famous prison term. Just don’t ask him about it, "read my prison diaries instead—that was a terrible time," he admits.
But I digress; we are here to talk about his latest offering, which is just in time for Christmas, in some parts of the world—a guaranteed way to move up the bestseller charts. It’s often said that no one can weave the web of suspense, deliver a jolt of surprise or teach a lesson in living like Archer.
And he lives up to all of that with another bestselling novel on the cards. It’s one long story, which begins on the night before 9/11. The setting, Archer admits, had made him a bundle of nerves because he wasn’t sure how it would go down. But the publishers loved it and the rest, as they say, is history. The inspiration came from a couple of news reports that he had read that talked about the people who were believed to be dead/presumed missing in the aftermath of the dreadful terror attacks.
Full marks to Archer the storyteller for using that as the backdrop, but not going into the blood and gory of 9/11. We’ve all seen it unfold on the television, print and the net, so it’s time to move on. And the author sums up the pathos of this human tragedy, beyond our imagination brilliantly:
"For the first time, she thought about the firemen who had passed her on the stairwell, and of Tina and Rebecca, who must be dead. It’s only when you know someone that a tragedy becomes more than a news item."
With that solemn remembrance, this action packed thriller that begins in New York, moves to London, Romania, Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Russia.
It’s quite a roller coaster ride that starts when an aristocratic old lady, Lady Victoria Wentworth, is brutally murdered in her mansion outside London. Dr Anna Petrescu, an art expert who works in a bank after being fired from a leading art auction house, knows something is amiss, but she is yet to make the connection between the death and the precious Van Gogh ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear’.
If you are an art lover, in addition to the ride across the world, you will also enjoy all the references to the great masters and their styles that flow seamlessly through the book. There is the FBI, the Interpol, a former lover and a killer on the loose—all the makings of a great adventure, which will keep you at the edge of the seat in addition to keeping you awake through the night. The ‘Master of Thrillers’ is truly back. In addition, if you are looking for a great yarn to end this year or begin another, you definitely couldn’t ask for more.