The Great Shorts

Recos May 15, 2020

Faced with bankruptcy in 1974, a former Member of Parliament of Great Britain started writing a book titled ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less’. Now, thirty six years later, Jeffrey Archer is a best-selling author with more than 20 novels and 90 short stories to his name. As an ardent fan choosing the best of his short stories is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to do as all of them are amazing. But I have made a valiant attempt and here’s the result (in no particular order).

Old Love (36 Collected Short Stories)

For readers who are assailed with romance novels where the male protagonist is some variation of the stereotypical bad boy, this short story will prove to be a refreshing change. Old Love tells the tale of William and Philippa who arrive at Oxford to study English Literature in the 1930s. After three years of both trying to best the other academically, they finally discover their love for each other. The story follows these two brilliant academics, their exploits after marriage and finally culminates with their demise. Old Love can charm even the most cynical of readers and restore their faith in the romance genre.

Colonel Bullfrog (36 Collected Short Stories)

Archer never misses an opportunity to write about the World Wars in his stories and for a man who was only five years old when the second one ended, he does a damn good job at it. This heart-warming tale talks about the British Colonel who gets caught by the Japanese during WWII. Despite his sufferings, after Japan’s surrender he manages to save many Japanese officers from death sentence for which they remain eternally grateful. The story will remind you that even though we humans cause war, we are also capable of such kindness that makes our world a better place to live in.

Chalk and Cheese (To Cut a Long Story Short)

Mothers generally have a tendency to favour the least successful of their children. Chalk and Cheese is about one such mother who finds excuses for her son Robin’s failure even though his lack of talent remains obvious. Meanwhile her other son, John, the more successful of the two, never resents his mother for neglecting him and after her demise, he even takes care of his entitled brother. The two brothers couldn’t be more different and hence the title. While the topic might seem a bit sombre, Archer keeps it fun and interesting until the very end.

The Red King (Cat ‘o’ Nine Tales)

When Archer was imprisoned in 2001 for perjury, he wrote three non-fiction books titled ‘Prison Diaries’ and also a collection of 12 short stories under the title ‘Cat ‘o’ Nine Tales’. Some of the stories are based on anecdotes he heard from his fellow inmates. This is one such story. The Red King tells the tale of an aristocratic British family whose matriarch comes into possession of an antique Chinese chess board and frantically begins collecting all the pieces from around the globe. After her death, her sons are duped by a con man for the last piece that they do not possess; the red king. With Archer’s natural flair for describing the colourful lives of nobles and that the unscrupulous thief, this story will be an interesting light-hearted read.

Where There’s a Will (And Thereby Hangs a Tale)

I particularly like stories where smart thieves outwit dumb rich men. This is one such story. What makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a real life incident. Evelyn Mertzberger learns the hard way that not every pretty blond girl can make it big in Hollywood. Edging closer to her fortieth birthday, she puts a well thought out plan in action to swindle a rich old man. Archer’s characteristic wit will make you root for Evelyn from the very first paragraph.

When a guy has written more than ninety short stories, you know there’ll be something for everyone. So go ahead, pick a collection of his short stories and enjoy the words of a master storyteller!

Featured image attributed to Bjørn Erik Pedersen / CC BY 3.0


Shriram R

Shriram is an unapologetic introvert with a passion for teaching and the written word.