False advertising

jeffrey-archerPrison has been the incubator of great literature.

Small wonder, it’s ideal for writers. You’re tucked away from the world and all its cares, you have plenty of free time to ruminate, and the oppression the writer feels from being unwillingly confined, restricted and made to conform creates pressure that has inspired great works.

Authors such as Oscar Wilde, Fedor Dostoyevsky, Jean Genet — even P.G. Wodehouse, confined to a Berlin hotel room during World War II, all produced some of their best works.

Enter Jeffrey Archer, who, as his biographical note at the end of “False Impression” states, served five years in Britain’s House of Commons, 14 years in the House of Lords “and two in Her Majesty’s prisons.”

He served a sentence for perjury, simply defined as making up a story. Judging by the quality of the tale in “False Impression,” he should have been acquitted.

The popular thriller is a simple creature at heart. Put the main character in danger in unusual or beautiful surroundings and turn up the pressure on them like coiling a spring then release it through the rest of the book.

Credibility, accuracy, fine writing — none of these makes any difference so long as the author supplies the thrills. If Edgar Rice Burroughs can send his John Carter to Mars in a dream and still be in print a century later, there’s nothing a thriller writer can’t get away with, except boring the reader. And that, Jeffrey Archer does quite well.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: An evil financier adds to his art collection by loaning money to wealthy clients temporarily on their uppers, then having them murdered, using a former Olympic gymnast with a taste for knives. Think of her as a combination of Nadia Comenici and Julia Child.

He’s just had the widowed owner of an English estate killed and is about to acquire a priceless Van Gogh when his employee — a slim, blond art appraiser with an unjustly shady reputation — attempts to thwart the move with the help of the victim’s kin.

She, in turn, is being followed by an FBI agent investigating the shady financier, and eventually they’re all followed by Nadia/Julia.

After that promising setup, the big middle of the book describes an international game of “Where’s Waldo?” as they follow each other from New York to London to Romania (coincidentally, the art appraiser is from there as well) to Japan and a few other places in between.

Hide-and-seek fans might be impressed, but it leaves the rest of us counting pages until the anticipated climax at the English estate.

“False Impression” might be noteworthy in that it’s the first pop fiction novel — as opposed to literary efforts such as “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “The Good Life” — I’ve seen set in New York during and after the 9/11 attack. I would rather have traded that distinction for a story that kept me turning the pages.