cover image To Cut a Long Story Short

To Cut a Long Story Short

Jeffrey Archer. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018552-7

Archer (Twelve Red Herrings; The Fourth Estate) maintains his obsession with surprise endings, producing a collection of 14 cleverly twisting tales, nine of which are ""based on true incidents."" If most of the stories fail to produce a lasting effect, they are characteristically fluid and occasionally satisfying. Among the most successful is ""Something for Nothing,"" inspired by a real story. Jake, a New York City father making a routine telephone call to his elderly mother, overhears another conversation in which instructions are given to pick up an envelope containing $100,000. Jake dashes out of his apartment and intercepts the loot before the intended recipient, but discovers that nothing is ever as foolproof as it sounds. In ""A Change of Heart,"" another fact-based tale, a white bigot in South Africa gets a heart transplant--and discovers the heart belonged to an African man he killed in a car accident. The incident inspires the bigot and others to reconsider their narrow views. ""The Endgame"" has a smart premise--a multimillionaire widower tests his family's loyalty by declaring himself bankrupt--yet the characters move as predictably as the chess pieces on the valuable set that is the focal point of the tale. ""A Weekend to Remember"" features bachelor-hotel owner Tony Romanelli and a sexy arts writer named Susie. Tony prides himself on being able to read if a woman is ""interested"" by the feel of her greeting or parting hug, but he reads the wrong story in Susie's enthusiastic squeeze. Perhaps cutting these fictions short was a mistake, their complex premises demanding lengthier elaboration. However, Archer's following is legion and the collection will doubtless find its readership. (Jan. 7)