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Michael Crick has given us a lot of good fun recently - at least, if we've been reading the newspapers and discovering the bizarre history of The Archers, pere et fils, as recounted in his lively and penetrating Jeffrey Archer: Stranger than Fiction (Hamish Hamilton pounds 17.50). William Archer was - er - inventive about the circumstances of his life: a talented fraudster and a bigamist, he was careless about the scattering and forgetting of offspring (Jeffery has only recently discovered some of his half-siblings). William claimed for himself whole chunks of past life that existed only in the realm of fantasy. Unlike his son, though, he didn't discover that this talent, if turned towards paper, print and willing publishers, can make you very rich. Jeffrey's own life, as well as those of some of his characters, contains shades of this strange paternal influence, especially a tendency to misremember details of his own career. And the one thing you can say for Archer junior is that the sheer scale of his scrapes, blunders and banana-skin-in-the-fast-lane approach to getting ahead is quite awesome. From the schooldays, when a rather sad and wimpy child determined to become an athlete, to his university career (he scammed his way into Oxford with only 3 'O' levels), past the tart at Victoria Station episode (pounds 500,000 in libel damages for that one) and on to the Anglia shares row (in which he seems almost to have proved that we are beyond surprise, when he is concerned) - everything is negotiated with absolute iron-jawed, in-your- face confidence. The book is fascinating, but the more you chase Archer the more elusive he is; I wonder what he's really like.

2 I couldn't help wishing that Kate White could have come up with a few synonyms for gutsy, the word repeated about 10 times on every page of Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead... But Gutsy Girls Do (Century pounds 9.99). Some of her advice is pretty exhilarating. In order to Have It All, a woman must Do It All, goes the conventional wisdom. But White says a gutsy girl "gives the grunt work to somebody else so she can focus on what's important (and fun)". Don't "work your tail off" - that's the Miss Mouse way. It's important to have one clear goal or vision, and prioritise only those things that fit in with or support this goal. But White herself seems to lose the clear vision her punchy title promises. GGs break the rules, she cries, but quickly backpedals: before you try this, "establish a track-record of competence. You'll be much more likely to get maverick ideas accepted." She tells us the inspiring story of Nancy Glass, anchorwoman with American Journal, who never bothers to arrange interviews but just turns up on celebrities' lawns on the principle that "There are no rules." "It may sound as though I'm suggesting that you land a chopper on someone's lawn. Not at all. In fact, it's probably best to leave that to renegade TV reporters with big blond [sic] hair," White hurriedly adds. But generally, rule-breaking works everywhere? Well, no. "There are still plenty of good old boy operations that are immovable. It just might not be worth your while to stay." Easier for little Miss High-flyer to say than for her readers to put into practice. White edits America's Redbook magazine, via stints on McCall's, Child and Working Woman, and her case studies all involve make-up moguls, veeps and ad execs. She has an irritating habit of using examples from her own career as though they are of limitless application: "When I joined Family Weekly as articles editor, the nagging problem was that we could only pay $500 tops for an article..." Like Rita Rudner's quip about the Don't Eat Dinner Diet Book, this manual's entire message is contained in its title. Just omit the "Why".