cover image Twelve Red Herrings

Twelve Red Herrings

Jeffrey Archer. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (324pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017944-1

Archer does a passable O. Henry in his third story collection (after A Twist in the Tale ), though without that master's depth of feeling or irony. Many of the 12 stories here, all of which feature false clues and twist endings, are based on ``known'' incidents; the fact that the weakest ones are not suggests that Archer's love of plot may exceed his unaided grasp. The leadoff yarn, ``Trial and Error,'' for instance, an original but attenuated tale of a wronged man's thirst for revenge, kicks in only with its predictably wry twist. Also original but flaccid is the last story, which features four rather obvious alternative endings that the reader can tack onto an opening gambit about a man picking up a woman at the theater. The adaptive tales are generally stronger. ``Chunnel Vision'' offers a classic red herring by which Archer uses a jilted woman's revenge on her lover to divert our attention from the real threat to the lover's happiness. Similarly, the chilling ``Never Stop on the Motorway'' plays on our expectations about an endangered woman's plight. Written in strong, clean prose and ranging in tone from charming to achingly suspenseful, these tales, mostly entertaining but often slight, offer, like much of Archer's work, more craft than art. $365,000 ad/promo; audio rights to HarperAudio. (July)