Despite the title, none of the 14 stories megaselling Archer (The Eleventh Commandment, 1998, etc.) exhibits here are abridgements of potential novels; practically all of them are expansions of paragraph-length anecdotes.
The tendency to embroider pat morals is clearest from the titles of the nine stories based on actual incidents. A champion of apartheid receives a tolerance transplant along with the heart of the African his automobile killed in “A Change of Heart.” A house built on the troubled border of the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland comes under attack in “Both Sides Against the Middle.” The brief “Love at First Sight” could easily have been boiled down further to an anniversary toast, or still further to “boy meets girl.” Even when Archer’s detailing the confidence schemes that give shape to so many of these tales—the hoary deception in “Something for Nothing,” the more elaborate moneymaking plot in “Crime Pays,” the plausible suitor who lays siege to a wealthy wife in “Too Many Coincidences”—their cleverness takes a backseat to the image of the conscientious recorder jotting down notes from a daily newspaper. The stories Archer makes up himself are just as foursquare and functional in their moralizing. A wealthy widower tests the affections of his heirs by pretending to be bankrupt in “The Endgame.” A self-regarding artist who spends a lifetime sponging off his brother gets his comeuppance in “Chalk and Cheese.” Everybody at Critchley’s Bank wishes he were somebody else in “The Grass is Always Greener . . . ,” a theme treated just as effectively a hundred years ago, and at a third the length, in O. Henry’s “The Social Triangle.”
Archer aptly cites O. Henry, along with Saki and John Buchan, as his masters, but the real model for these tales is the after-dinner speaker who wouldn’t dream of taxing your brain after the long day you’ve had.