I don’t think I’ve read any Jeffrey Archer before although some of his titles sound vaguely familiar. Kane and Abel; Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less; As the Crow Flies; Honor Among Thieves; Sons of Fortune. He writes political thrillers and is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. On the front cover of this book it quotes Liz Smith, New York Post: “A worthy successor to The Da Vinci Code.” So all in all, perhaps my expectations were way too high. Because I found it all sort of tedious.
It starts off with the murder of Victoria Wentworth, an English heiress whose family fortune has declined tremendously due to financial mismanagement. I don’t know Victoria from beans, so have a hard time drumming up sympathy for her, although having your throat cut certainly can’t be a pleasant way to die. We learn that Anna Petrescu (an art dealer, and an employee of Victoria’s creditor) has recently recommended she sell her very valuable Van Gogh painting to a Japanese collector to get herself out of debt. Then we are introduced to Bryce Fenston, a purely evil banker who wants paintings, not money. His so far foolproof method for amassing great works of art is to lend money to people who possess them, get them so far into debt they can’t possibly get out, and then claim all their assests as his own. Oh yeah, and kill them usually. So they don’t talk about it I guess.
Fenston fires Anna because she is meddling with his little scheme and arranges to have his paid assasin get rid of her. As she is cleaning out her desk in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, on 9/11, a plane hits the building and blah blah blah. She escapes from the building and goes to her friends house to have a shower and wash off all that dirty grey ash and stuff. Her friend (Tina) is Fenston’s secretary who has been busy getting the goods on Fenston to eventually turn him in. Anna is assumed dead and decides this would be a good cover to get out of the country, via Canada, and get the Van Gogh sold and save the Wentworth fortune. Why? Because she’s miss goody-two-shoes. And at the moment she doesn’t have a job, so what the hell. Not only does she have a female former Olympic gymnast assassin on her tail, she also has a handsome FBI agent following her around trying to figure out what she’s up to. Fenston has been under investigation by the FBI for several YEARS and everyone associated with him is suspect. But they just can’t seem to prove anything. Sigh. So right away you know Fenston’s days are numbered with this many people after him. Even his personal aide hates his guts. Victoria is survived by a twin sister, Arabella, who is much smarter than Victoria, so she and Anna make a good team. Anna makes a lot of smart moves and has a lot of great connections and many people who love her and would die for her and actually do, but it’s hard to not want to shake her for her huge dumb move of getting herself involved in all this in the first place. I know early on that Fenston will get his just rewards eventually, and that Anna will end up with Jack. It’s just a matter of who gets killed in the meantime that keeps me reading. The ending was both wild and predictable, if that’s even possible.
I found this absolutely hilarious review of the book – a much better condensed version than I’ve been able to come up with – read this, and there will be no reason whatsoever to plod through the original. Enjoy.
Monday March 6, 2006
Guardian9/10 – Lady Victoria Wentworth never heard the young woman break into her stately home. Minutes later she lay dead with her throat slit and her ear removed.
9/11 – Today Fenston would get his hands on the Van Gogh. Few suspected that behind his facade as a respected banker lay one of Ceausescu’s most loyal cronies who had amassed a fabulous horde of impressionist art by getting rich collectors to borrow money at ridiculous rates of interest and then killing them.
Anna Petrescu, the world’s most fragrant expert on impressionist paintings, entered the North Tower and took the elevator for her meeting with her boss.
“The Wentworth Van Gogh should be sold to Nakamura,” she said. “That way, she can pay her debts and keep her home.”
“You’re fired,” Fenston yelled and left. Anna went to her office and the walls exploded around her. She was the last person to leave the tower alive.
“Hmm,” she thought. “Everyone will assume I’m dead. Maybe I can use that to my advantage and save the Wentworth Van Gogh.”
9/12 – Anna ran the last six miles to the Canadian border and flew to London.
“Aha,” said Fenston. “She’s gone to London via Canada.” He picked up the phone and called Krantz, his personal 4ft 11in female Romanian assassin.
Jack observed Anna and Fenston from afar. “Maybe if I repeat the fact that Anna has gone to London via Canada it will make it seem less ridiculous,” he told his CIA minder.
9/13 – Anna arrived in London, hijacked the Van Gogh, had a secret meeting with Victoria’s sister, Lady Arabella and left for Bucharest with a parcel.
“She’s leaving for Bucharest,” said Krantz, getting on the same plane.
“She’s leaving for Bucharest,” said Jack, getting on the same plane.
9/14 – Anna met with her old art teacher and asked him a special favour. “Because of all the charitable works you have done, I cannot refuse,” he said.
“She’s leaving for Tokyo,” said Krantz, getting on the same plane.
“She’s leaving for Tokyo,” said Jack, getting on the same plane.
9/15 – “You are a remarkable woman, Miss Petrescu,” bowed Nakamura. “I will do as you say”.
Krantz hung on to the bumper of Nakamura’s car for 40 miles before holding up the driver. She ripped open the parcel. It was the wrong painting.
“She’s going back to Bucharest,” said Krantz, getting on the same plane.
“She’s going back to Bucharest,” said Jack, getting on the same plane.
9/16 – Anna had another secret meeting with her art teacher before leaving for London. The taxi driver shot Krantz in the shoulder. “That’s for all those who died under Ceausescu,” he muttered.
9/18 – Fenston unwrapped the Van Gogh. “It’s a fake,” sneered the insurers.
9/19 – Jack phoned his minder. “Krantz escaped from 17 guards at the hospital.”
9/20 – Arabella, Anna and Nakamura celebrated the sale of the Van Gogh. “Not so fast,” laughed Krantz. Arabella, who had a touch of Margaret Thatcher’s steel, blasted her with a shotgun.
Jack rushed in. “I’ve just realised that Fenston is wearing one of Victoria’s earrings, so everything’s sorted.” He gazed into Anna’s millpond eyes. “Come back to Grantchester with me.”
The digested read, digested: Crook tries to make money out of 9/11. Just like his characters.