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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« James, Dean: Baked to Death | Main | Smiley, Patricia: Cover Your Assets »

Archer, Jeffrey: False Impression

  

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St. Martin's Press © 2006, 373 pages [amazon]
3 stars

In Jeffrey Archer's latest novel art expert Anna Petrescu crosses swords with her monomaniacal boss Bryce Fenston, the chairman of Fenston Finance. Fenston, an avid collector of Impressionist paintings, uses his position in the bank to target clients with valuable art collections in order to lead them into bankruptcy and assume ownership of their assets. Fenston currently has his eye on Van Gogh's Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, which is in the possession of his client Victoria Wentworth. Fenston will stop at nothing to get the painting: as a former henchman of Nicolae Ceasescu--during whose regime he operated under a different name--Fenston is comfortable with authorizing the swift and fatal application of force to achieve his ends. In her bid to stop Fenston from getting the Van Gogh, Anna winds up traveling the globe and attracting the attention of Fenston's hired assassin as well as the FBI.

The behavior of Archer's characters sometimes passes belief, as when Anna--who was in the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building but managed to escape to a friend's house--watched only a few minute of television coverage of the attacks before switching off the news for good.False Impression could have been a top-notch thriller, and it does have a decent storyline to offer readers. But unfortunately there is too much wrong with the book to give it high marks. The writing--particularly in the first third or so of the book--is often distractingly clunky and trite. Of the miasmic cloud that hung over New York after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, Archer offers the following groan-inducing description:

"The dense cloud had dispersed, but like a disease it had spread to other parts of the body. For some reason, Anna had assumed when she woke it would have gone, but, like an unwelcome guest at a party, it would surely be the last to leave."

Archer's characters, too, are not fully fleshed out. Fenston in particular is given no redeeming qualities whatever. He is portrayed as being consumed solely by his desire to obtain the Van Gogh. The behavior of Archer's characters sometimes passes belief, as when Anna--who was in the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building but managed to escape to a friend's house--watched only a few minute of television coverage of the attacks before switching off the news for good. Did anyone in the United States show such little interest in the news that day, particularly a New Yorker who'd worked in the building and survived?

These aren't the book's only problems. At least one plot point--involving a  mistake made in a forged piece of art work--is difficult to credit. More importantly, Anna's very involvement in the dangerous business of opposing Fenston is not adequately motivated. It's been said that a protagonist in a thriller ought to be faced with some imperative that compels him or her to go forward into dangers. For Anna there is no such imperative. She risks her life for a good, but not good enough, reason, a fact which is actually acknowledged in the book, but dismissed:

"Why didn't she just drive off? She didn't need to become involved or even consider taking such a risk. She then thought about Victoria and the role she had unwittingly played in her death. 'Get on with it, woman,' Anna said out loud."

That Anna goes to such lengths to combat Fenston without needing to is distracting.

Finally, it will perhaps be apparent by now that Archer wraps his story around the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The book is in fact broken into dated sections, beginning with September 10th and ending with September 26th. While there is nothing inherently wrong with incorporating the attacks into fiction, there should probably be a good reason to do so. But the inclusion of the attacks here is pointless, or close to it. They allow Anna to be presumed dead for a short period of time, though this could have been achieved by some other plot device and may not have been necessary at all. Once Anna escapes from the North Tower and the buildings collapse, moreover, the events of that day are virtually forgotten in the story. I don't understand why Archer bothered to fix his narrative onto such a historically important event if it was to serve no particular function in the story.

As I suggest above, False Impression has a decent skeleton, but the book needed more work. Readers should look elsewhere for their next page-turner.

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Comments

1.

I was rather disappointed that Anna in particular seemed largely unaffected by the 9/11 attacks - it just never really came up after the initial section. And that didn't work well for me either.

I enjoyed your review - I've linked to it here.

2.

Thanks for the link, Lana. Yes, the 9/11 aspect of the book was disappointing. Almost cold-hearted, as I remember (though it's been a while since I read it). Certainly unrealistic.

I like the way you describe her as traveling merrily through the world post-9/11. :)




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.