Warning: This review contains spoilers, but so does the prologue, and the back cover blurb. You might enjoy it if you don’t read either of the two, but then again, you might not – the book is not very good. Honestly, a combination of the prologue and the cover blurb summary would have, with minor edits, worked as a short story, a deeply plotted flash fiction. But that’s about it.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to give Jeffrey Archer another old college try. It might have been how just about everyone I know repeatedly refers to him as a genius storyteller and what not. But you know what, there are too many well written books in this world to waste time on this. Okay, I’ll take you through the story and make you agree.
First we are served an enlightening prologue: a man named Harvey Metcalfe pulls some important sounding strings, a stock crashes and four men abruptly become penniless. For future reference, I’m going to call this E.W.A.K, short for, everything we already know.
The book begins with a sly, sneaky delivery boy named Henryk Metelski. Sound familiar? In about two pages he changes his name to Harvey Metcalfe. Harvey does a truckload of interesting illegal stuff becoming a millionaire, and (surprise, surprise) still not satisfied. He decides to invent an oil company that appears promising to make a profit off it for himself… read the book if these details interest you, the author can’t get enough of them. E.W.A.K is right around the corner. Basically, Metcalfe needs a fall guy, whom all the shady activities of the company would lead back to, and for that he chooses someone named: David Kessler.
Enter: (Ta da!) David Kessler. This chapter focuses on what happens to David Kessler that leads up to what you were already told about in the concluding line of the previous chapter. David Kessler meets four guys and convinces them to buy the stocks of this new company he has started working for. And eventually, slowly, E.W.A.K happens.
The first guy is Stephen Bradley, an Oxford professor, who has a very long, mildly interesting back story. The second guy is Robin Oakley, he’s a doctor, so there’s that. The third guy is Jean-Pierre Lamanns, a stock-character French art dealer in fine, fine clothes. The fourth guy is called Lord James Brigsley. So then finally, the stock crashes, and all that has happened sixty pages into the book is this: E.W.A.K. Everything we already know from that moronic prologue.
Over the next few pages, Stephen discovers E.W.A.K. A Detective Inspector arrives and together, they discuss E.W.A.K. Then Stephen Bradley invites the other three guys to dinner. He tells them E.W.A.K. They are very shocked by E.W.A.K.
There you have it – 3 frustrating hours reading 162 pages of what the prologue already mentioned. So here I think – Why I don’t I read what the next 200 pages are going to be about from the back cover blurb? I mean, what could happen? BAM. Worse happens.
Let me introduce you to: E.W.A.K.#2. The back cover of the book with utter dumbness states the following.
Their plan: find Harvey, shadow him, trap him, and penny-for-penny, destroy him. From the luxurious casinos of Monte Carlo to the high-stakes windows at Ascot to the bustling streets of Wall Street to fashionable London galleries, their own ingenious game has begun. It’s called revenge – and they were taught by a master.
Um, the back of the book, let me remind you, fabulous publisher, must not contain spoilers.
For the next couple of hundred pages, we have a lot of winding discussions leading up to E.W.A.K.#2.
I don’t know if it was Archer himself or his poor editor wife who discovered the nothingness that the book contains and decided it needed a twist ending. A classic out-of-nowhere twist ending that is too annoying to deserve more than a passing mention. It has something to do with James Brigsley’s suspiciously unnecessary love interest Anne.
You call this masterful storytelling? Okay, allow me to go kill myself. Wait… how could I sign off without mentioning Archer’s beautiful writing and how he employs it to make insightful observations, like Robin Oakley and his wife in bed showing us how doctors think of sex:
He clambered in beside his fragrant silk-clad wife and ran his finger hopefully down her vertebral column to her coccyx.
‘You’ll be lucky, at this time of night,’ she mumbled. They both slept.
Actually, I won’t have to go kill myself after all. I just died laughing.
2 thoughts on “Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer”
You know, I picked this up again about a week ago as one of the books to reread on long bus rides. I couldn't do it. In particular, I was so annoyed by the constant shoeshorning of "Harvard Business School".
Sample dialogue –
"One lesson a man learns in the Harvard Business School is that an executive is only as good as his health."
"He repeated the Harvard Business School motto to himself as he was ushered into a small private room: look British, think Yiddish."
"David smiled. This was business in the proper Harvard way. If you do the work, you get the rewards. No messing about."
Thank you!! Finally. Someone agrees. So, I have since discovered that this was Archer's first book, which means I ought to have cut him some slack. But I still think the book is way overrated.
Also, I just looked up "Harvard Business School" and "Jeffrey Archer" and there are Google Book results from like all his books… funny.