KANE AND ABEL by Jeffrey Archer


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A Boston-Brahmin banker. A rags-to-riches immigrant hotel-king. Two intermittently interesting, mostly clichÉd life stories (1906-1967)--which unsubtle Archer (Shall We Tell the President?) has linked up, using coincidences that belong only in Italian opera and plot secrets that only Dickens could get away with (and did). William Kane is the banker, a handsome Lowell/Cabot scion who is impossibly precocious, noble, and cool: his father dies on the Titanic (""Oh, look. . . a picture of Daddy's ship. What's a ca-la-mity, Mommy?""); his mother remarries badly (a slimy fortune-hunter whom canny teenager William runs out of town) and dies in childbirth; and William becomes an incredibly young director of the family bank. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Abel Rosnovski is born a Polish orphan bastard, is raised by peasants, is taken in by the local baron (who turns out to be Abel's real pa), survives German and Russian imprisonment, then flees to the U.S. via Turkey. So how do these two heroes--both of them tiresomely brilliant and decent--hook up? Well, there's a brief teasing glimpse of waiter Abel serving William at the Plaza Hotel. But the real connection is made after Abel has become the indispensable right-hand man of a midwest hotelier: when the 1929 Crash comes, Abel and his boss need help from William's bank, William refuses, and Abel's beloved boss commits suicide. So Abel vows vengeance on William while--with aid from a mysterious anonymous backer(!)--he manages to salvage the hotel chain and achieve tycoon-dom. And with World War II the Abel/William contacts really start hopping. Even the most indulgent readers will surely gag when Abel just happens to save William's life on the battlefield (neither of them recognizing the other!). And next. . . what else but a coincidental meeting between William's son and Abel's daughter? (The two fall madly in love and marry over both fathers' protests.) Abel continues to try to destroy William, however (with coincidental aid from William's hated ex-stepfather): grabbing control of his bank, bribing JFK in 1960 not to choose William's kinsman H. C. Lodge as running mate. And William fights back by getting Abel arrested for bribery. Finally, after William dies, Abel--who apparently hasn't read Great Expectations or Our Mutual Friend--learns that William was his anonymous backer all those years ago. . . . Obviously inspired by Hollywood's corniest movies and Howard Fast as well as the great Boz, Archer works hard to put in every known commercial grabber (except, thankfully, gratuitous hard-core sex); but, though a few individual scenes have some melodramatic snap, the ludicrous plotting and cardboard characterization make this a long, ragged trek--for the most undiscriminating saga-seekers only.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster