Tell Tale – Jeffrey Archer

At the release of  ‘Only time will Tell’ in 2013 in Bangalore, while everyone else was bursting with questions about the Clifton Chronicles, the only one that I was worried about was whether the author  would pen another short story collection in the middle of the series or finish the entire set before setting his mind to it. When he increased the number of the series from five to seven, all hope seemed to be lost.  After what feels like a decade, Jefferey Archer finally condescended to accommodate us mere mortals by bringing out a much-much coveted anthology of short stories.

My husband was the one who picked up ‘Tell Tale’ at the airport and called me pronto in order to prevent me ordering it on Amazon. He just made it. Then he carried it around with him on his travels and I had to wait for second dibs on it. I wondered why there wasn’t more buzz around this release as compared with that created for the Clifton Chronicles. A short story collection after almost 10 years was a huge advertising gimmick to have lost out on. Or is it possible that we were living under a rock and simply missed out on it all?

I must admit that the apprehension levels were pretty high about what to expect from this volume – would it be in the same vein as his previous collections or would he have lost his touch?

Once I started reading, there was no putting this book down except to give myself short breaks between the stories to just absorb them in. Tell Tale is as classically Jeffrey Archer as it can possibly get. His short stories are always exceptionally spectacular in execution – be it character development, the intricate plot or the twist at the end. Some of them are equally simple with an ending that makes one smile at human nature and its many facets. Also, he loves the underdog and it is impossible not to shake your head indulgently while these underdogs go about breaking innumerable laws in extremely gentlemanly ways.

My favourite without a doubt would be ‘The Wasted Hour’. I never saw the end coming and once it did, my reaction was pretty much the same as that of the protagonist’s must have been viz. ‘Oh S***!!’ All the possible scenarios I had thought up were straight out the window. And, to top it all, this one is based on a true story and I completely commiserated with the young girl who lived that hour in reality.

‘The Road to Damascus’ was a story that was a ode to the human conscience, that little voice in all of us that so often speaks up at inopportune moments – only how many of us have the courage to listen to it and then act on it

A simple anecdote in the repertoire of someone transforms into a charming tale of human behaviour in the hands of Archer. As with the first lady professor in Cambridge in ‘A Gentleman and a Scholar’. That story is a salute to teachers in a subtle and loving way, striving to remind us that these paragons of knowledge have their moments of doubt too.

‘The Car Park Attendant’ was a story with those underdog protagonist’s that I so adore. It also exemplifies the adage ‘Behind every successful man there is an intelligent  woman’ or something to that effect. Also, it is a dig at the governments of great nations who manage to overlook so much petty crime in their own backyards.

Perhaps the only ones I did not appreciate were the 100 word shorts at the beginning and end of this book. They seemed too simplistic for something to come out of Jeffrey Archer’s pen and faintly reminiscent of work he has written earlier.

I would like to write in detail about each story here but it is a little difficult to do so satisfactorily for short stories without giving away the plot. So, I will simply leave it at this much and ask you, nay, urge you most vociferously to read this collection by one of the greatest writers of short stories of our times.

Also, he promises to release a new standalone novel and another short story collection next year. Wait, did he announce ‘next year’ last year or this year? Must confirm. Cannot be caught napping a second time.

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