Jeffery Archer’s novels always make me sit up with excitement. Anyone who has read his works will agree that he is in a class of his own. His novels offer a racy entertainment just like an action film does. Take Not a penny more;Not a penny less, Honor among thieves, The Prodigal Daughter, Kane & Abel, the excitement is palpable.
The print media is a fascinating world. It is excitement on the move. One can only imagine what goes inside the doors of those papers that one reads. So when we find a novel which is based on the print media, we happily lap it up. When it is Archer who writes the story, it is a double delight.
The Fourth Estate is no less in offering a roller coaster ride in its journey through the print media. I would say The Fourth Estate is Archer’s best. From the start to the finish, Archer makes you sit up without blinking a bit and making you feel as if you are experiencing the story in reality.
The novel traces the life of two most dominant press barons of the twentieth century-Richard ‘Dick’ Armstrong and Keith Townsend. Contrasting in character but similar in ambition and drive. The story traces the rise of these two arch rivals who grow up to dominate the print media and engage on a battle so fierce that ultimately only one will survive. While Armstrong craves for publicity and recognition, Townsend is content in running the show anonymously, for he realizes that real power comes from anonymity.
From Armstrong’s early days as a Jew to his practical education in the market place to his gift of languages, to his driving force which takes him half the way to England(he regrets this in another part of the novel where he says “Had I been born in America I would have been in the White House”) to his cut throat competitiveness in outrunning any one who wished to cross his line, to changing his entire personality if that helps him in gaining publicity and fame(the name change from Lubji Hoch to Peter England to Private John Player to Richard ‘Dick’ Armstrong is a fitting example), to his exceptional tactics in running his rivals to the ground, Armstrong shines.
Keith Townsend is a rich heir to a wealthy press baron who schools in Oxford and the likes, gets all the privileges a rich lad gets, is groomed from the start to take over the empire his father built and which he nearly loses. He proves he is a press baron and entrepreneur right from his school days when he takes over his school paper as editor and fires off scathing headlines to air his views. His tactics at the race course and the way he uses the school funds to try a few shots, to his entrepreneurial spirit-the locker room shop he runs as an underground substitute is a fine example only makes you wonder at this reckless man and the extend to which he will go to achieve anything.
Armstrong and Townsend don’t come face to face until in the second half when Armstrong overhears a proposal Townsend makes in a restaurant and races ahead to close the deal employing a clever tactics, making Townsend fuming and admitting that he has a worthy adversary in hand. From that moment, it is a battle of wits, power as both employ all the techniques in the rule book and use unconventional ways to outrun each other. From bidding for every tabloid in Britain to bringing the entire press in Australia under the banner to poaching the best talents from both the sides, the war rages like anything.
Nowhere do we get a feeling that we are only reading a story as all the tactics and characters have a strong sense of reality and are even now visible in the real print world. This will surely whet the appetite, as one would say of a hungry Archer fan, let alone one who is interested in a racy, nail biting entertainer.
After you read this, you will love working in the print media and get closer to the world of cut throat competitions, where the real power lies.