Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Fourth Estate: Jeffrey Archer, May 10—June 1, June 28—July 6, 2012
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
While Archer’s The Fourth Estate is a blatant fictionalisation of the careers of Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell, it’s nevertheless dramatic and interesting, and an intriguing look into what can be a very shady world.
Townsend and Armstrong (as Murdoch and Maxwell are rechristened) are built up slowly for the reader, each of their lives being described in alternating chapters. For the first few chapter couplets, there is symmetry between the events underlined by similar opening and closing lines, but this soon falls away. The result of this technique is that each individual chapter becomes rather episodic and even predictable in its format. There doesn’t appear to be much flow or continuity between each chapter, entertaining as each one is on its own merits.
However, the format works well to establish both lead characters as unbeatable foes and powerful men, making their clash around 50% of the way through all the more titanic. The dynamics, wrangles and politics thereafter become interesting as each becomes desperate to outfox the other.
The plot is varied and fast moving, and it makes it easy to glide through quickly. Neither Townsend nor Armstrong are particularly likeable, but both are intelligent and at different stages command the reader’s loyalty in rooting for them.
Archer often skims over what one would expect to be significant events, and the passage of time is lazily dealt with. Granted, the chapters have dates but who can be bothered keeping track when the author should be showing us – not telling us – how the characters have aged and grown.
The author also enjoys teasing the reader by acknowledging that a phone call took place, a telegram is received, and idea is had, without revealing the content. This is overused as a technique and becomes grating. Sometimes it would be nice if the author told the story and stopped trying to be clever.
Despite its stylistic shortcomings, The Fourth Estate is a real treat. We embrace an exciting world, and it’s deeply entertaining to watch the cat and mouse unfold, always wondering who will come out top in each skirmish. Well researched, believably written and often immersive, this book deserves a headline on your shelf.