One of Jeffrey Archer's cleverest works can be read in just a minute

Writer Jeffrey Archer couldn't resist the challenge thrown down by Reader's Digest. Source: Pan Macmillan


I enjoy short stories, particularly when they are in the hands of someone with a real talent for the genre, such as H. E. Bates, Nobel Laureate Alice Munro and Jeffrey Archer.

I’ve read a number of short stories by each of these authors and whilst their style is varied, I love the way they write perfectly formed characters, scenes and plots with the minimum number of words, without the readers feeling something is missing. In well-written short stories, you are rather left with the feeling that even one more word would spoil the whole.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. One of my friends says she wants to delve more deeply into a character than a few thousand words allows and I understand this.

On the other hand, there are some authors that I want to ask to put away their Thesaurus and just get on with telling the story. I practically threw a book in the garbage when the author took 19 pages to describe the heroine’s outfit – yes, only one outfit in chapter one. There may be hundreds of different words for blue, but they don’t all need to be in the same sentence!

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Even though I enjoy short stories, I was surprised to learn that a Reader’s Digest editor challenged Jeffrey Archer to write a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end in only … 100 words, not 99, not 101, 100 words exactly! Never one to avoid a challenge, Archer obliged, meeting the editor’s delivery deadline of 24 hours.

With kind permission of Archer’s publisher, Pan MacMillan, I have great pleasure in reproducing that 100-word story , titled ‘Unique’, here:

Paris 14 March, 1921

The collector relit his cigar, picked up the magnifying glass and studied the triangular 1874 Cape of Good Hope.
“I did warn you there were two,” said the dealer, “so yours is not unique.”
“How much?”
“Ten thousand francs.”
The collector wrote out a cheque, before taking a puff on his cigar, but it was no longer alight. He picked up a match, struck it, and set light to the stamp.
The dealer stared in disbelief as the stamp went up in smoke.
The collector smiled. “You were wrong, my friend, “he said, “mine is unique.”

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When Tell Tale was with the publisher, Reader’s Digest announced the relaunch of their 100 Word Stories competition. Archer was again invited to enter, again with the proviso the finished piece be delivered within 24 hours. The result was ‘The Perfect Murder’, but if you want to read it, you will need to buy the book.

One of Jeffrey Archer’s books of short stories was entitled, A Twist in the Tale, another Twelve Red Herrings and these titles perfectly encompass what I love about his stories – there is always a twist to the story, an unexpected ending or if I’m having a clever day, the joy of working out the twist before reading the outcome!

In the latest collection, Tell Tale, we learn some of the stories come from the imagination, whilst others are inspired by incidents gathered on his travels. My particular favourite in this collection is ‘A Gentleman and a Scholar’, but there are many entertaining stories to keep your interest. Tell Tale by Jeffrey Archer is available in hardback from the publisher at a recommended retail price of $32.99.

Tell me what you think –  I love hearing your views and as usual, if you would like to start a discussion about books, please contact me.

Karen xxx