Cat O'Nine Tales (Book Review)

'CAT O'NINE Tales' is a set of nine short stories written in the kind of beautifully simple prose that is faintly reminiscent of RK Narayan.

By Enid Parker (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Sat 8 Sep 2007, 11:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:45 AM

The stories themselves are light-hearted, and in spite of some glossing over and romanticising, most are page-turners. All but three of them are based on Archer's own experiences in prison.

'The Man Who Robbed his own Post Office' is a humorous account of a law-abiding middle-aged couple embarking on their first theft. In 'Maestro' a shrewd but friendly Italian finds a unique way to dodge taxes. 'Dont drink the Water' is the first story with a grim undertone, and heavily laced with irony as a businessman attempts to do away with his wife in a seemingly innocuous manner. 'It Can't Be October Already' portrays an endearing homeless Irishman who has a penchant for winter jail terms. Getting away with stealing an antique chess piece is not as easy as it seems, Max discovers in 'The Red King.' And can any collection of crime stories be complete without a beautiful con woman? A femme fatale sharpens her claws in 'The Wisdom of Solomon,' another gem.

The only slightly incredulous tale is 'The Commissioner' in which Malik, a Bombay conman, comes across as a little too naive in his underestimation of the city police force's intelligence.

Ronald Searle's illustrations add a dash of mystery and humour to the proceedings; they feature a distinctly feline character, who at times appears very jumpy (portraits at Harry Potter's Hogwarts flash through my mind at this point, they displayed the same tendency to move about).

Most of Archer's colourful protagonists go about their crimes quite cheerfully, unmindful of the consequences. Anyway this is no in-depth deconstruction of the criminal psyche - just a light-hearted romp through tales from prison. The author's effortless comic timing brings a freshness and spontaneity to these stories, which are both sharply observed and innovatively portrayed. I ended up being quite fond of some of the prison inmates Archer encounters, especially O'Flynn from 'It can't be October already.'

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