Jeffrey Archer’s life could fill the pages of a pulpy potboiler.
The British novelist and former Member of Parliament once teetered on the edge of bankruptcy after a financial scandal; he sued a newspaper for libel and won (he was accused of consorting with a prostitute); after it emerged he had lied, he ended up in prison.
But past public disgrace hasn’t kept the colorful Archer down. All that personal drama has been fodder for 40-plus years of bestselling sagas like Kane and Abel and the Clifton Chronicles, not to mention three volumes of prison diaries.
Now, at 79, Archer is launching a new fictional series starring an ambitious young policeman.
Nothing Ventured (St. Martin’s Press) is the first of seven planned William Warwick books.
“The aim is to take (William) from constable to sergeant to inspector to chief inspector to superintendent to chief superintendent to commander to the commissioner,” Archer says by phone from London.
“But I’ve got to live that long,” says the cheery writer, who hits the gym two or three times a week. “I’ll be 80 next April. You can’t count on these things!”
Fans of the Clifton Chronicles series will recognize Warwick as the fictional creation of Harry Clifton, Archer’s novelist alter ego.
William is hardly your average copper. His father is a distinguished Queen’s Counsel who wants William to practice law. The likable young man follows his own path, first studying art history. By the 1980s, he’s a newbie at Scotland Yard in the Art and Antiques Unit.
A stolen Rembrandt leads to William’s chief nemesis, the glamorous but crooked art collector Miles Faulkner. (“Villains are much more fun to write because they can get away with so much,” says Archer.)
The novelist drew on his love of art and the “amazing” stories of shady collectors he’s heard for years at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Archer has an art collection to rival Faulkner’s. It takes the writer a minute to remember all the masters hanging on his walls.
“David Hockney—I’m looking down the corridor now—Bonnard, Pissaro, Monet, Sisley, Utrillo, Picasso. . . .It’s been a lifelong love affair.”
Archer interviewed retired officers from Scotland Yard to add authenticity to Nothing Ventured, which includes a subplot about a man who forges author signatures in rare books. (Archer collects first editions and has a signed copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.)
He used his own life again for another subplot, this one about the father of William’s girlfriend, who’s in Belmarsh prison, where Archer spent time.
“Oh yes, I always say to every young author who comes to see me, ‘Use whatever experience you have.’ ”
While politics is in this Conservative Party member’s past, he’s happy to share his thoughts on everything from Britain’s Brexit crisis (he voted “Remain”) to the dubious state of American politics.
“You’re talking to someone who considers Jefferson a hero, who considers Theodore Roosevelt a hero,” Archer says. “What I don’t understand: You produced Jefferson and Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a population of 300 million, where are they?”
Jocelyn McClurg, the former books editor at USA TODAY, is a freelance writer in New York.