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by Jeffrey Archer

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-53953-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

A collection of O. Henry–esque stories from British author Archer (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.).

The prolific author of novels, plays and screenplays returns to the story format with this book of whimsical, sometimes ironic pieces. Some work, some don't, but even the least of these is entertaining. The title, taken from a line penned by Shakespeare, sets up the premise of the book, which opens with the tale of a young man betrothed to a beautiful woman who is clearly above his station. After he successfully proposes, she in turn proposes an endeavor that tests their relationship, as well as his mettle. This story, like the others, is designed to give the reader a bit of an O. Henry moment and hinges on the idea that nothing is as it seems. "Better the Devil You Know" is a particularly satisfying tale in which an evil, ailing corporate mogul is given a second chance at life, while an innocent pays the price. In the end, though, true to Archer’s theme, someone gets an unexpected and unpalatable comeuppance. There is nothing in this collection that will stick with readers once the covers close. It’s not great art, but it is great, slightly old-fashioned entertainment, marked by simplicity and unpretentiousness—that’s good enough to turn someone who doesn’t normally read short stories into a fan of the genre.

This is the ideal book to pop into a bag or keep in the car and carry to pass the time, since the stories are short, easy to read and simple.