I picked up an old Jeffrey Archer book that I had not read (gifted to me on my 40th birthday by Don) under the mistaken notion that I would be reading a quick, action packed page turner from the master story teller. Unfortunately 'False Impression' is probably Archer's worst among the ones I have read so far, and I found it difficult to finish it. If I was not one of those determined 'finishers' I'd have given up long ago.
'False Impression' is the story of art - or rather one art collector who goes to any extent to get some of the prized art works of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and some other well known master painters in his collection. Fenston is a Romanian refugee, a Ceacescu (the Romanian dictator) aide, who laundered money for his boss, now running a bank in America. He lends money to rich clients in need of money, swindles them out of their art and if that is not enough, has them killed by having their throats slit and ears lopped off. Why he should kill his clients at all was something I did not understand if he had all the paperwork in place? Alternately why lend money if all you want is to take away the paintings by slitting their throats?
Anyway he has one Dr. Petrescu, another Romanian and an art expert who worked with Sotheby's etc, and who is an ethical, good hearted, single, attractive, jogger in fine physical shape, in his employment. The story begins with Fenston's ethics clash with his attractive employee and he fires her minutes before the planes crashed into the WTC towers in New York. Their offices are also in the WTC.
Petrescu survives the WTC destruction, but despite all that happened, is more concerned about the Van Gogh that her boss is cheating her client of. Technically he is not, but ethically he is, so she decides that she should unethically retrieve the art! She does not know that the boss also has the world's best murderer, Olga Krantz, a Romanian gymnast who specialises in killing anyone by slitting their throats and looking into her victim's eyes. She has already slit off the client's throat for two million which is placed in a locker in Queens, New York. In an elaborate, and rather unnecessary manner, Dr. Petrescu flies to London, via Canada, risks getting arrested for impersonation, meets the client's hard nosed sister and promises to save the Van Gogh. Why? Are they related? What is wrong with her? Why steal the painting especially when she knows her boss is a killer?
Anyway here the story degenerates into a three way story. One Petrescu who manages to outwit both the FBI, who has an agent behind her. Two the FBI agent who is falling in love, and who has some of the most juvenile dialogues ever read in an Archer novel. And three the incredible Olga Krantz who is slitting throats as she follows Dr. Petrescu. No points for guessing what the amazing Petrescu manages to do - she somehow escapes Krantz and gets her jailed, exchanges corny dialogues with her FBI friend, gets a million from her client's sister, gets a job from an ethical Japanese businessman who also buys the Van Gogh. Fenston, for his ruthlessness, seems to be a dud and seems to operate with three people, his secretary who is actually on a mission to avenge her brother's death, his ex-con finance director and his favourite Olga Krantz. Beyond that, Fenston seems to have no life.
'False Impression' is what you don't want to read, if you are familiar with Archer's works. It is long, drags, implausible and I found it very difficult to read. It almost appears as if he gave it away to someone else to write. It has none of his great storytelling, page turning qualities. I found it unconvincing from the start and it got worse as it went along. The backdrop of 9/11 served to find what one would have experienced as we see it through Dr. Petrescu's eyes, but after that, it went downhill all the way. If you want to learn of art, find other sources. If you want to learn of Romanians find other sources. If you want to learn of romance, definitely find other sources. If you want to know about dumb mafia bosses who go about wearing expensive ear rings of their murdered clients whom they have just had killed and whose ears have been lopped off ear ring and all and sent to them, and wear the same ear ring when meeting President Bush at Ground Zero and puts up the picture as a huge poster in his office which could be certainly visited by all types of FBI investigators, his clients sister etc, you must read it. Avoidable read. There are better Archer books out there.