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Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer

Published by St. Martin's Press on September 3, 2019

Nothing Ventured is a very British novel. Etiquette are good taste are paramount, upper lips are resolvedly stiff, young men are exceedingly proper in their courtship of young women (unless an older woman sneaks into their bed at night). The novel’s protagonist, William Warwick, is the fictional creation of Harry Clifton, a fictional author in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles. Archer is now giving Warwick his own series, beginning with Nothing Ventured.

William Warwick’s father, Sir Julian, is a barrister who has made a successful career of defending the accused. William rebels, refusing his father’s demand that he read law at Oxford. William wants to be the accuser so he can lock up all the villains his father has freed. They compromise on an art history education, followed by police school.

The meat of the story begins with a two–year probationary period, during which William bonds with an old constable who teaches him the lore of a beat cop. Thanks to his art history education, Warwick soon becomes a Detective Constable assigned to Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities division, where he takes on two crimes.

William's initial investigation involves forged signatures on first editions, an offense that Warwick solves with legwork and ingenuity. The second, more complex plot thread involves the theft of a Rembrandt. The latter crime leads Warwick to investigate an underhanded art collector with the eventual help of the collector’s unhappy and conniving wife. Along the way, Warwick falls in love with an employee of the museum that lost the Rembrandt.

The museum employee’s father was unjustly convicted of murder, leading to the plot’s third thread. Warwick enlists his father, who enlists William’s sister, to prove his future father-in-law’s innocence. The alleged murderer has long maintained that the arresting officer removed the middle page of his three-page statement to make the statement appear to be a confession. That is only possible because the first page (which ends mid-sentence) merges seamlessly with the mid-sentence beginning of the third page. The plot thread therefore rests on an unlikely contrivance that I could not convince myself to accept.

The art theft is a more plausible tale, although the last paragraph has the villain making an incriminating statement that seems remarkably stupid. Trial scenes are interesting but undramatic. Warwick doesn't testify in the art theft trial, robbing it of any hope of exceitement, while Warwick’s father, handling the proceeding for William's girlfriend's father, lacks the flair and fire of an in-the-trenches barrister (read a Rumpole novel if you want to be entertained by a British barrister).

Although the plot generates little tension, the story is pleasant. Archer always writes with grace. Warwick and his father are a bit stiff, but Warwick does indulge in a brief episode of naughtiness that suggests a real human being lurking somewhere beneath his veneer of resolute propriety. Nothing Ventured is nothing special, but it is a quick and easy read.


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