Just about everyone loves a good story. And after reading or hearing an especially good one, who doesn’t want to know the real story behind the story? The title of AND THEREBY HANGS A TALE comes from a quote in a William Shakespeare play, and it means just that --- the story behind the story.
In the tradition of master storytellers, Jeffrey Archer has crafted a collection of 15 short tales. Set in England, Ireland, America, India, Germany and points between, the book includes heroes and villains, winners and losers, injustice and comeuppance, love and loss, the demonic and the divine, and features stories of double-crossing crooks, convicts and thieves; a conniving gold-digger; fortune hunters; star-crossed lovers; and much more.
Picking a favorite from such a diverse collection is not an easy task. Those who yearn for suspense and intrigue with a surprising twist will enjoy Archer’s original story, “Politically Correct.” If you’re looking for a perfect blend of humorous and heartwarming, then you should read “The Queen’s Birthday Telegram,” the true story of a centenarian who gets an unexpected surprise. And in “High Heels,” a wife’s high-fashion skills help a determined insurance investigator solve a case.
One of the standouts for me is “A Good Eye,” an inspiring tale of art, tradition, faith and divine intervention, set in the hills of the Bavarian state of Germany. The story begins in the 1600s, with Herr Hans Grebenar, a church elder who is trained in law but who also has a passion and an eye for art. While serving as a prosecutor in the town of his birth, Grebenar discovers Herr Friedrich Bloch, a gifted painter. Despite his marvelous talent, Bloch can’t steer clear of his vices. Grebenar bails Bloch out of his troubles numerous times and becomes his advocate. In exchange for financial support, Bloch agrees to Grebenar’s commission “to paint full-length portraits of Our Lord’s disciples.”
Over the course of decades, Bloch executes his commission, but he saves his greatest masterpiece for last. The final painting stays with the family for centuries until tragedy strikes. Without giving away the ending, I’ll just note that it truly is a miraculous tale of passion, faith and God-given genius.
What I like best about AND THEREBY HANGS A TALE is Archer’s obvious respect for the tradition of storytelling. Throughout the collection, he weaves clever and compelling tales with straightforward, unadorned prose. His writing is clear and concise, and many of his characters are memorable. But it’s really the concept of story --- and the story behind the story --- that is at the heart of Archer’s elegant and entertaining work.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on November 4, 2011