After the Clifton Chronicles comes this clutch of thirteen short stories, a collection that takes us back to a form Archer had abandoned for quite a while. Archer is well aware of his skills — pointing out that a story can be as long or short as required and proving it with a 100-word story, that is the first in the book.
There’s something comforting about his story telling style — it is so nostalgically old fashioned. Archer divides his stories into crime and whodunits, tales that can be described as morality tales and stories of luck and just deserts. Archer prefers his stories to have definite endings, the sentences are short and the dialogue witty and despite the length, Archer’s characters remain memorable in their blend of arrogance or sophistication and ingenuity as in the story of the Neapolitan detective shafted by love or Ralph determined to get the better of the wife who doesn’t love him till fate comes in the way. Some of it is Roald Dahlish. There is also a whiff of O’Henry in a story like The Senior Vice President about a decent man typically hardened by the chaos of corporate life.
Love, morality, professors recalling the past through Shakespeare, quotes from American literature, Archer hits all the right notes and hints at his twists through the titles or sometimes through the opening lines of the stories. Like a good storyteller he manages to hook his readers through simplicity and guessing what will happen in the end is not always easy, despite being possible a couple of times.
As Oscar Wilde said, in Archer’s stories ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. Many of the stories have been inspired by actual stories of people he encountered in the course of his wanderings. In the middle Archer slips in a conceit — getting the reader to choose the ending he or she prefers from the three endings offered. It works as a conceit of course since most readers will enjoy being told tales that seem almost like eavesdropping on scandals long ago and will willingly open themselves to any challenge that Archer poses.