Jeffrey Archer - Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less

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I was surprised to discover online that Jeffrey Archer--so favorably juxtaposed to Salman Rushdie in one of Bridget Jones' Diary's hilarious dinner scenes--

seems to be pretty unpopular in the British press, quite aside from the fact that he's been convicted of a felony. (His scandalous lifestyle is straightforwardly

presented here.)
Whatever the man's personal flaws, however, his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, is a lot of fun. The story begins wheh Harvey Metcalfe, a

self-made American millionaire, finalizes an elaborate scam in which he cheats four strangers out of a million dollars. All four of them thought they would

be rich; the next day, however, they discover that they are penniless. Stephen Bradley, one of the four strangers and a Harvard mathematics graduate now

studying at Oxford, gathers together the other three and makes a proposition: although none of them have ever met each other before, they will now work

together to get the one million dollars back from Harvey Metcalfe, using whatever means are necessary. At last, the other three--a doctor, a French art

collector, and a lord--agree, and the plot is set in motion.

Not a Penny is an excellent caper novel, concerned less with characters and deep ideas than with cleverly wrought plans played fast and loose against

changing circumstances. There are actually four capers in the novel, since each of the victims is supposed to come up with a plan of his own, and each one

(except, perhaps, for the last) is exciting, often hilarious, and satisfyingly complex. It's true that Archer takes a great deal of liberties with his characters in

order to make these plans work (Harvey Metcalfe in particular often seems more like a gawking child than the shrewd businessman he is supposed to be),

but the liberties he takes don't detract too much from the lighthearted appeal of the victims' schemes.

Unfortunately, these capers are described with some of the most mechanical writing I have ever read. Whatever the virtues of Archer's plotting, his writing

style is at best workmanlike, and often clunky. He also somehow finds it relevant to include in the book the full versions of various documents--like a job

application form, and a British law--even though the information in them is both irrelevant and unexciting. And even his plot falters by the end, when an

extraordinary, unbelievable coincidence occurs that sets the stage for several absolutely hilarious scenes--and then robs the rest of the novel of its fast-

paced excitement.

Until that point, however, Not a Penny is a fun, light read--and well worth the afternoon it will take to complete

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The conned: an Oxford don, a revered society physician, a chic French art dealer, and a charming English lord. They have one thing in common. Overnight,

each novice investor lost his life's fortune to one man. The con: Harvey Metcalfe. A brilliant, self-made guru of deceit. A very dangerous individual. And now,

a hunted man.

With nothing left to lose four strangers are about to come together -- each expert in their own field. 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.

Interesting fact:
It took Jeffrey some time to find a publisher for this first novel. When it was published, it only sold 3,000 copies in hardback. The paperback did a bit better,

selling about 20,000 in the first year. However, as word-of-mouth...
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