The latest and least of English politician/best-selling authors (Disraeli, Churchill. . .Archer) returns with a flyweight collection of original short stories featuring trick endings. On Christmas Eve with three glasses of cheer under your belt, you might be kind enough to call these 12 tales by the author of Kane and Abel, First Among Equals, etc., ""O. Henryish."" But then again, O. Henry never cheated to arrive at his surprise endings, as Archer does in ""Just Good Friends,"" where he anthropomorphizes a cat beyond fairness and credibility to get away with the twist. And O. Henry grew a majority of his stories out of his own fertile imagination, while Archer, as he explains in a note, bases ten of these pieces on ""known incidents""--which no doubt explains the awkward, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not tone of several, including: ""A La Carte,"" in which the son of an auto mechanic grows up to be a master chef; ""Colonel Bullfrog,"" in which a guard at a WW II Japanese POW camp grows up to be an industrial tycoon; and ""Not the Real Thing,"" in which a British lad grows up to be the world's premier sewer-designer. Three of the tales do rise above the mediocre: two mystery/suspense-tinged stories, ""A Chapter of Accidents,"" in which a cuckolded husband plots the Don Juan's death, and ""Perfect Murder,"" in which a murderer attends the trial of a man accused of one of the murderer's own slayings; and ""Checkmate,"" which works up some nice sexual tension within a chess/seduction milieu. Archer does manage to save worst for last, however, with the embarrassingly maudlin tale of a rabbi's lament (""Christina Rosenthal""). Mostly arbitrary or predictable twists and pedestrian storytelling add up to a poor show. Of course, the biggest--and most likely--twist here will be if Archer's many fans take to these leavings with enough gusto to push them onto the best-seller lists.