Choir Boy, Criminals, and the Crown Jewels
The Big Thrill Interviews Jeffrey Archer
In 1671, Colonel William Blood engaged in a daring attempt to steal England’s crown jewels from the Tower of London—and almost succeeded. Sentenced to death, Blood somehow charmed his way out of a hanging. No one has tried to repeat the crime since. Now, in his compelling new thriller TRAITORS GATE—the sixth in the William Warrick series—acclaimed author Jeffrey Archer explores whether a modern-day Blood could pull off the theft.
It’s 1996. Chief Superintendent Warwick and his partner, Ross Hogan, must transport the crown jewels from the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace. Arch criminal Miles Faulkner devises a plan to steal the jewels—seeking not only to purloin the country’s national treasure but also to destroy the careers of Warwick and Hogan. Complicating matters, Warwick’s wife, Beth, the newly named director of the Fitzmolean Art Museum, must thwart a case of art forgery indirectly connected to the heist. And Inspector Hogan, never one to follow the rules closely, is accused of an ethical lapse that could help make the jewel theft a reality.
William Warrick, the novel’s protagonist, is nicknamed the “Choir Boy.” Yet, he’s devoted to his partner, Ross Hogan, a maverick who’s anything but a choir boy. Jeffrey Archer tells us that despite being opposites in character, the pair are drawn together by a sense of justice, which makes them natural friends. Interestingly, Hogan isn’t your typical sidekick—meaning he’s not merely a Watson to a Holmes or an Archie Goodwin to a Nero Wolfe. Rather, Hogan has his own agency, serving almost as a second protagonist. Yet, Archer deftly ensures that Hogan’s story never detracts from Warrick’s arc, no mean feat for a writer.
When asked how he manages to accomplish such a difficult task, Archer says, “I can only tell you what readers tell me. They say they like the contrast between William Warwick and Ross Hogan, and Ross is the one who sometimes has to break the rules, while William always keeps strictly to the rules—well nearly always.” Indeed, in TRAITORS GATE, Warwick displays a bit of “Hogan-style” rule breaking.
Warrick’s wife, Beth, also plays a prominent role in the story—and along the way adopts Ross Hogan’s approach to crime solving. A compelling character, Beth is based on Archer’s wife, Mary, who’s currently chair of the Science Museum Group, the first woman ever to hold the post of chair in any of the country’s six major museums. “Of course, Beth is Director of the Fitzmolean, and in the next book is shortlisted to take over the Tate Gallery,” Archer says. “So I draw upon 57 years of marriage and watching a very remarkable woman climb to amazing heights.”
Book titles of course convey much about the story. In real life, “Traitors’ Gate” is the entrance through which many prisoners of the English royalty arrived at the Tower of London, including, presumably, Colonel William Blood. And traitorous characters play a prominent role in TRAITORS GATE.
In the most effective stories, the antagonist is a three-dimensional character with a compelling backstory, and TRAITORS GATE’s Miles Faulkner is just that—layered, motivated, and on rare occasions even eliciting the reader’s empathy. “Miles Faulkner is not a normal criminal,” Archer says. “He is very good-looking, extremely bright, and has enough money (gained illegally) to choose his crimes carefully. However, in William Warwick he finds a natural protagonist. It has been fun developing the two of them during the series.”
Not only adults play key roles in the novel. Through a school project assigned to Warrick’s children, the novel deftly weaves the true story of Colonel Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. “This was a tremendous challenge, because, of course, the story of Colonel Blood has been written by many leading historians,” Archer says. “I had to write it as seen through a child’s eyes (aged 14) as he was the first person to attempt to steal the Crown jewels, and I wanted the parallel stories to run so that people could follow both thefts and compare them.”
Archer has frequently described Stefan Zweig’s 1939 novel Beware of Pity, set in pre-World War I Austria Hungary, as one of his favorite novels. (Renowned during his lifetime, Zweig died in 1942.) Like Zweig’s novel, TRAITORS GATE vividly depicts the social and cultural milieu of the recent past, immersing the reader in England of the mid-1990s. Perhaps this attention to detail explains one reason why Archer dedicated the novel to 88-year-old Alan Gard, one of the great craftsmen jewelers in England who for the last 18 months has been working on making the King George V State Crown.
Asked to describe his writing process, Archer says, “I reckon I am lucky if I know the first 30 or 40 pages of an upcoming book, and then it takes off in a direction I sometimes have not even considered. I have always felt if I don’t know where it is going, the reader won’t know where it is going. In fact, I can say I have never had anyone claiming to know exactly what is going to happen next. Quite often, even I don’t know what is going to happen next.”
Although he’s written numerous books in several series, Archer doesn’t keep a character bible but rather relies on his intimate knowledge of his characters. As he puts it, “I have always kept the characters William Warwick and Miles Faulkner firmly in my mind, though I confess from time to time my publisher points out that I have forgotten something that happened in an earlier book and have to correct it.”
At age 83, Archer shows no sign of slowing down. While he says that looking ahead at his age is a little tricky, he’s planned his next three books. Fans of Jeffrey Archer look forward to those three novels and many more.
The Big Thrill Interviews Jeffrey Archer