I have a lifetime reading project. My goal is to read one book from each fiction shelf at the Williamsburg Library. I allow myself the option of skipping a shelf if I’ve already read two books on it, but that isn’t most shelves. I’ve been at my project for over two years, and I’m still only 18 shelves in, still reading authors whose last names begin with the letter A! Since I only allot my project a small percentage of my reading time, I may never finish, but it’s a good project, and I’ll keep at it. The intent is to read authors whom I would otherwise never attempt, and this post is about one of these authors.
Jeffrey Archer is an English author who once was a Conservative Member of Parliament. He resigned that position in financial scandal. He was later investigated for insider business dealings and even served time in prison after being convicted of perjury from 2001 to 2003.
Archer’s writing style is a little old fashioned, and not something I would normally read, but he’s held popularity over the years, with a career that began with 1976’s Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, and continues right up to 2013’s Best Kept Secret. That makes him the perfect candidate for my reading project. Archer’s plots can be melodramatic, but as I read his second book, 1979’s Kane & Abel, I found that despite my skepticism, I was sucked into the story and found it hard to put aside.
Kane & Abel is the story of two men, born on the same day in 1906, destined to cross paths and butt heads throughout their eventful lives. Wladek Koskiewicz is a Pole who rises from impoverished birth, survives both the Germans and the Russians in WWII, and eventually emigrates to America. William Lowell Kane is the scion of a Boston banking family, a prodigy who rises to the top despite family problems and bitter enemies. Both men are admirable but intensely stubborn, and over the course of the novel, they cross paths many times but never become close acquaintances. In later life, they become fierce rivals because of misunderstanding and a failure to communicate.
More happens to each of Archer’s protagonists than normally happens in the lives of a hundred men, and both are too perfect to be believed most of the time and too stubborn to be believed the rest of the time, but what happens to them is consistently interesting, and as a reader, you can’t help but play along, thinking about how you would react to each new crisis, cheering the protagonists when they overcome another obstacle, cringing when they let pride bring them to a new low. It’s enthralling stuff with a strong connection to the world, even if it is at times hokey. It’s easy to see why Archer continues to hold a spot on the fiction shelves after all these years. When you’re tired of all the artsy literary fiction with flashy style and clever ideas that just doesn’t quite connect at the gut level, pick up this old warhorse and cleanse your reading palate with a bit of classic storytelling.
If you like this story, it continues with another generation in The Prodigal Daughter. Archer turned to books that are closer to political thrillers, but his most recent series, The Clifton Chronicles, which begins with Only Time Will Tell, returns more closely to the style of Kane & Abel.
Check the WRL catalog for Kane & Abel