Caste-Off (The Year of Short Stories, February), by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Master storyteller Lord Jeffrey Archer has chosen to please his fans with a new venture; a short story released each month. Those familiar with Archer’s work will know that he can not only spin long and involved pieces, but also the short story that compacts adventure into a handful of pages. February’s story spins a tale of love, as complex as it is intoxicating. Jamwal Rameshwar Singh is a millionaire playboy with a cocky attitude and a flashy car. When he’s overtaken on the road by an elegant, but equally speed-hungry, female driver, Jamwal will stop at nothing to make her acquaintance. Following her to a hotel, Jamwal eventually learns more about Nisha Chowdhury, a woman he does not remember from his childhood. According to Nisha, a young Jamwal tied her to a lamppost and left her. Now, smitten with this woman, Jamwal will do whatever he can to have her hand in marriage. While Nisha does love him, she is well aware of the impossibility of their union. Jamwal’s father is a maharaja, therefore making their castes incompatible, though that does not seem to deter Jamwal. He would do whatever it takes, even defy his own family, to have Nisha as his wife. During a trip to break the news to his parents, Jamwal discovers just how deeply rooted tradition and caste appears to be and he must make a choice. Archer pulls the reader into the centre of this story and adds a twist that the reader likely never saw coming. Brilliantly executed, fans of Archer’s work will surely enjoy this piece, as might many who prefer shorter tales to fill their time.

Lord Jeffrey Archer’s work is always full of unique perspectives, be they complete novels or shorter story such as this one. I am so pleased to have come across this collection and will review each storey based on its own merits, binging with the five before me to catch up, before awaiting each instalment on a monthly basis thereafter. Archer takes little time to develop backstories for both Jamwal and Nisha, weaving them together and yet still developing in their respective spheres. The story rushes onwards, much like the vehicles they drove to open the piece, and takes a few hairpin turns as the narrative lays the groundwork for some superb plot thickening. There is little time to waste and Archer uses each sentence to enrich the story, tossing off the extra in short order. The reader may enjoy the building momentum that sees this young love flourish, though remain clouded by the issue of caste, so prevalent in Indian society. Archer adds his own flair to keep the reader guessing until the final sentence, his trademark. No matter what one feels about his time incarcerated, Archer frees the reader from any judgment by presenting this top-notch piece.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for a masterful new story collection. How you find so many effective ideas that produce high quality publications I will never know.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: