And Thereby Hangs A Tale—Book Review --M23 Umchun60
Title: And Thereby Hangs A Tale Author: Jeffrey Archer Date of Publication: 2010 Here’s a serious question for the gents: What would you do if a girl, perfect in every way, suddenly approached you, asked you out, and agreed to walk down the aisle with you just a month later? Even a desperate man will surely smell a rat here, and that’s what I did (not that I’m desperate) when the setting of the book’s first short story unfolded; only that the ending still managed to surprise me. In fact, the wonder and suspense that is masterfully maintained till the very last sentence is exactly the primary attraction of the fifteen tales in And Thereby Hangs A Tale. Jeffrey Archer, the author, rose to international fame with Kane and Abel, the Clifton Chronicles, First Among Equals etc. all of which are epic works spanning decades in their storylines. However, not everyone wants to commit himself/herself to a long drawn-out relationship with a bulky novel when a brief affair with an anthology will suffice. For those seeking the thrill of fiction without the commitment, this collection offers the ideal alternative to Archer’s other heavyweight pieces. From the tale that took place in the Medieval to that about the devil, from an accusation arising from prejudice to that of obstruction of justice, And Thereby Hangs A Tale has it all. For those interested, a synopsis of each of the anecdotes can be found at the end of the article. Archer claims that ten of the fifteen accounts are based on real-life events. Well, if this is the case, this only adds weight to what Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction”, for it is Archer’s forte to reveal a twist in the very end so dramatic it fundamentally rewrites the meaning of the previous text. But at least there exists a principle that fits in almost every story—strange things occur not because of random chance, but because somebody somewhere has an ulterior motive in mind. Having spent a good two years in prison, Archer has met his share of scumbags and scoundrels. That’s why even though fewer than half the tales involve crimes, the protagonist is always either the one devising meticulous and atypical ways to deceive others or the victim of such deception. Yet, the book’s weakness also lies in this principle. By the time you reach the fifth or sixth story, you will inevitably become so paranoid with all those scams and crookery that you will be extremely well aware that “This can’t be right”, or “There’s gotta be a catch”. Just as horror movies lose their grip on the audience if they abuse jump scares or spooky music, at times the sheer amount of trickery in And Thereby Hangs A Tale can be overwhelming and all you want is a chapter of respite. That said, there is little doubt that Archer is a skilled writer. One of the reasons I prefer British writers over their counterparts across the pond is their subtlety. The formers describe things as they are, no exaggeration or hyperbole, whereas the latters sometimes make you feel like watching one of those Marvel’s heavily CGI scenes. There’s no flowery language in Archer’s book; each word serves only to construct the plot, and nothing more. For instance, to give readers an idea how much a shop owner adored a pop star, Archer depicted that every time his idol drove past the store, the owner would lose interest in his customers and only stared at the window, hypnotised. While his earlier epic novels are like hearty main dishes, And Thereby Hangs A Tale offers readers a plate of assorted appetisers, each taking only moments to devour but whose fragrance lingers long afterwards. And now, back to the first question—what should you do if you were that lucky guy? My advice would be to run away and pray you never see her again. Why? Well, that’s complicated, with a twist. Synopsis of the stories: *Stuck On You* An attractive woman seduced her admirer to help her steal an invaluable diamond. *The Queen’s Birthday Telegraph* A centenarian discovered on his wife’s hundredth birthday that her true centenary had actually passed five years ago. *High Heels* A novice actuary foiled a factory owner’s false insurance claim in his first case. *Blind Date* A blind gentleman thought he had tricked a young lady into believing he had normal eyesight, only to find out that she could not see either. *Where There’s A Will* An escort-turned-nurse devised an elaborate scam to inherit the asset of a dying patient while evading legal consequences. *Double-Cross* A fence cooperated with the police and gradually had his cellmate, a high-profile burglar, reveal the location of his stash. *I Will Survive* An antique dealer lost his vigilance when approached by a famous singer and advanced her a prestigious Russian Easter Egg, ignorant that she was actually an imposter. *A Good Eye* A Bavarian prosecutor in the 17th century spotted talent in a ruffian, who later painted for him portraits of the Twelve Apostles that proved to be immeasurably valuable. *Members Only* A child’s life changed when he received a golf ball in Christmas, which not only gave him the love off his life, but also involved him in the frontline of WWII. *The Undiplomatic Diplomat* A retired British archivist with a mundane career attempted to contribute to his country by claiming a remote island as her territory. *The Luck Of The Irish* An Irishman seemingly met his demise when his property development plan in Spain was called off, but discovered it was actually a blessing in disguise. *Politically Correct* A prejudiced man suspected his neighbour to be a terrorist, only to discover he couldn’t be more wrong. *Better The Devil You Know* A wealthy and unscrupulous chairman plagued by cancer made a deal with a demon to swap places with a young healthy receptionist without realising there was a catch. *No Room At The Inn* A young backpacker seeking a room in Tuscany ended up bedding a hotel receptionist, but the affair turned out to be not as spontaneous as he had imagined. *Caste-Off* A bittersweet account about how two unlikely Indians fell in love and surmounted the traditional caste system to be together.

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