It’s not long since I reviewed the first in this series of books, Only Time Will Tell. If you recall, I gave that a rather positive rating, and praised the “phenomenal power of Archer’s storytelling”. I hope this demonstrates that, despite disliking the man, I’m not unduly averse to Archer’s writing, or even to this particular saga. But this second novel is terrible.
It seems to me that writing a series of novels is a difficult thing to do. There are, I think, two approaches. One can write a series of discrete plot-driven novels with connecting story arcs, whereby each novel – except perhaps the final few – stands alone, yet the sum of the novels is greater than its parts. Alternatively, one can write an epic story spanning several volumes, with small arcs satisfying the conditions of the multi-book format. What doesn’t work is splitting a continuous plot into several parts, with no obvious reason as to why the split has occurred.
This novel doesn’t stand alone, and has no more than a couple of chapter’s worth of plot in the context of the wider saga. Or perhaps 1.9 chapters, given that the single thread defining this novel is left incomplete. As a result, this book has more exceptionally dull filler than any other I’ve read.
I know that people are generally advised to “write about what you know”, but surely no-one can have failed to have groaned when a Jeffrey Archer protagonist wrote a prison diary. Nor when the same protagonist starts armed forces training. Nor when his first book sells wildly in North America, allowing a lucrative deal to be sealed for its UK distribution. Nor when a character becomes an MP. Nor when the plot moves to the House of Lords. It’s as though Archer has taken Private Eye’s Jeremy Longbow as inspiration rather than ridicule.
On a few occasions in the book, Archer seems to forget his own characters. One particularly memorable example comes towards the end, when the protagonist requires an explanation of the term “free vote”, despite displaying a voracious appetite for news and some interest in politics. Initially, I assumed that this was merely a badly deployed literary device used to explain an important plot point, but as the whole exchange was unnecessary for the plot, one can only assume that it’s another bit of filler.
The one advantage this volume has over its predecessor is that the repetitive structure, and the odd affliction of only the first chapter in each section being written in the first person, has been dropped. All other faults of the first volume remain: the ludicrous co-incidences, the politics bleeding through into the plot, the clichéd characters, and so on. Archer has promised “at least” five books in this series: at this rate, I can’t imagine there will be many readers left by the fifth.