After being fired from Sotheby’s, art expert Anna Petrescu is relieved to get a job at the Fenston Finance bank. She at first turns a blind eye to her boss Bryce Fenston’s ruthlessly strong-arm ways of growing his private art collection by deliberately creating situations to compel bank clients to surrender their choicest art collections in lieu of debt. Upon realizing that her latest recommendation will likely result in Lady Victoria Wentworth’s losing a Van Gogh that has been in her family for generations - if not her life - Anna decides to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen. Unfortunately for Anna, Bryce is up to her tricks and fires her before she can do much damage.
Just as she is being escorted out of her office in the North Tower, a plane crashes into it. Anna narrowly escapes. But as Bryce now believes she’s dead, Anna sets out to rescue the painting - even it means she has to steal it in order to keep it safe. FBI agent Jack Delaney suspects Anna is as crooked as her devious boss, whom he’s been investigating for quite some time. What he doesn’t know is whether she has stolen the painting on Fenston’s behalf or her own. Anna flies around the world alternately conning and charming, not realizing that both Fenston’s deadly assassin and Jack are following her. The stolen painting’s location, what Anna intends to do with it, and how it all ends makes up the rest of the tepid story.
At first, False Impression shows every sign of being yet another Jeffrey Archer masterpiece, especially when the central character initially makes a keen, on-the-spot decision to use the 9/11 tragedy to disappear and set some wrongs right. Sadly, this is where inspiration ends and the story loses steam. Not only are Anna Petrescu’s feats of theft, evasion and avoidance too convenient for belief, but also any advantage she has in keeping just one step ahead throughout is due more to sheer dumb luck and bungling on the villain’s end rather than anything remotely crafty on her side.
With plot twists so sheer as to be evident even to novices and not a single red herring in sight, the only mystery remaining in this watery read is whether this can indeed be the same veteran author who once astounded readers with such dashing, deviously plotted books such as Kane and Abel, Honor Among Thieves, and Not a Penny More.
However, the story does have some bright spots. While not all readers may appreciate the tragedy of the Twin Towers being used as plot prop, there is no denying the vividness with which Archer brings to life the day of 9/11, however brief. His prose becomes almost lyrical when describing the various countries Petrescu goes through and the world of Impressionist art, its collection, transportation and history. These points, together with a non-stop pace of action and some suspense, may well redeem the book in the eyes of new readers, although ardent fans will be hard put to give this diluted read a place in the keeper shelf.