Written in 1980, ‘A Quiver Full of Arrows’ features vignettes of a simpler time, before email and cellular phones and Twitter and Facebook cluttered up our lives. When wealth and luxury were marked by Rolls Royces, leather chairs and Cuban cigars rather than hybrid vehicles, recycled furniture and vegan meals.
There’s something deeply comforting about an Archer story. They’re full of wry surprises and parlour tricks. No shock and awe tactics are ever employed, just a soothing compendium of light surface description and blithe plot. Sex is obliquely referred to as “making love” with a breast here and there, but is terribly perfunctory – Archer never lasts more than a paragraph or two – and there’s certainly no talk of emotions. Violence is always off-screen, a distant assassination, no direct hits.
The reader is flown graciously across continents in a show of cosmopolitan worldliness. Over a dozen tidy tales, we are taken on a global tour from China to London, New York to Nigeria. We meet captains of industry, bankers, military commanders, foreign diplomats, Empresses and Presidents. Lord Jeffrey makes sure to introduce you to people from all the right social circles, dah-ling.
The writing style is clean, masculine and unapologetic. Archer employs a unique image, usually a simile repeated for emphasis, as a hook that pulls you into each story. It’s clever authorial sleight of hand. Look over here, at the woman I’ve described as the White Queen with cottage loaf hair. Don’t worry about the looming punchline. Observe this fleet of black Mercedes that I’ve likened to a land-bound crocodile. Never mind what those macho Brazilian men are up to.
If you’re a fan of Ocean’s Eleven, or any story populated by scoundrels, thieves, gamblers and tricksters, Lord Jeffrey will delight you. He’ll drop names and make too-casual mentions of fancy brands, institutions and corporations as a personal resume of aristocratic tastes and upper-crust associations, with heavy emphasis on Oxford (where his bio states he “was educated”… although not as an undergraduate) and Eton.
These stories steer clear of heavy themes and social commentary, focusing rather on cognac and cricket: the male equivalent of chick-lit. In the end, you may not read a great work of literature, but you’ll have passed a pleasant few hours on a plane or in a waiting room with a cozy sensation of nostalgia, wit and borrowed glamour.
“Old Love”, the last story, was the one I liked best.
For more adventures of naughty, sly, over-educated men…
1) Thieves, scoundrels, gentlemen bastards! Scott Lynch’s ‘Lies of Locke Lamora’
2) Archer’s best work, IMHO. Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less
3) Short stories about guys. Garrison Keillor’s ‘Book of Guys’
3 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, 190 pages, Publisher: Coronet (1982)
Read from August 01 to 06, 2012