‘The Man Who Robbed His Own Post Office’ by Jeffrey Archer: Short Story Analysis
When Jeffrey Archer was in prison, he collected a lot of real-life crime stories from his inmates and others. These stories have been included in his short story collection, Cat O’ Nine Tales. One of the stories in this collection is ‘The Man Who Robbed His Own Post Office’ which is well-penned by the master of suspense literature and is amusing at the same time. But don’t be fooled by the initial humor in the story, for though the main characters Sue and Chris Haskins seem comical in caricature, as the story progresses, we realize how they were good people at heart. Archer brings out the goodness in both these very simple people who were cheated by their own Post Office leaving them in penury. The story goes on to tell how they meticulously organized a way to take advantage of their good name in society to rob, as it were, their own post office through a series of banking and commercial tricks.
I want to draw your attention to the first part of the story. After reading the title of the story we would think this to be a funny tale of a cliched middle-aged British couple. There are instances where Archer tries to make us believe that we are in for a comedy by the funny descriptions of the couple: the fact that Chris was hoping for five years in jail for himself but felt he was ‘lucky’ because he got only three, and the couple wearing their Sunday clothes to court as they treated the justice system like a Church. We realize as we read on, however, that Chris and Sue were once normal, regular, and very simple people. Archer goes back to when they were at primary school where they were milk monitors. Archer through his excellent skill at caricatures paints the very decency of this couple. We realize, however, that this is a real story of real people; maybe Archer knew Chris when he was in jail and learned about them shifting to Portugal to open a fish-and-chips shop over there.
The story is divided into three parts:
- The Beginning
- The Middle
- The End
‘The Beginning’ discusses the growth of Chris and Sue into adults after studying in the same school and then being together during their military service in the Royal Air Force. I would say that their Royal Air Force service was something that prepared them to rob their own post office when they were older because the Royal Air Force taught them how to be meticulous, organized, and how to be risk-takers. Let’s not forget that it is a Royal Air Force duffel bag in which they stash their illegal currency while they were planning to leave England for Portugal. ‘The Beginning’ also talks about their falling in love, getting married, giving birth to their only daughter, and then the growth of their first startup which was a fish-and-chips shop.
‘The Middle’ portrays them to be happy with their fish-and-chips startup but when Chris realizes that his friend Dave Quenton was selling his interest in the post office business in their area, Chris jumps at the opportunity and buys it with their savings. However, to their dismay, the property and the loan of the bank would be subject to the post office retaining its category A status, which it doesn’t. Chris and Sue lose their money. They feel cheated and this makes them want to commit a crime.
‘The End’ mentions how they were ready to leave the country, fail to do so because of the inconvenience of the pet dog Stamps, and their arrest as cheats.
The Haskins were well known for their goodwill and good name. Archer shows us how they took advantage of that to dupe the post office, the bank, and certain of its customers. The meticulous planning was done by both, but the real planning was done by Sue who in the past was known for her organizational skills when they were at school and the Royal Air Force. Their daughter, Tracey is completely in the dark about all this. The fact about the Haskins not thinking of what Tracey would think and not taking her into confidence indicates to us the following:
- That they were not very much attached to their daughter.
- That they felt she was financially self-sufficient and could look after herself.
- That their idea of retirement was only about themselves excluding their daughter.
- That the fact that they were ready to take the black Labrador called ‘Stamps’ with them to Portugal and not Tracey showed that they didn’t care so long as they got what they deserved as hardworking middle-class people who had slogged all their lives to make the sum they invested in the post office.
The Haskins were people who felt themselves entitled to the money they were stealing. They never thought of it as ‘stealing’ or ‘theft’ at all. It’s only when they are before the judge, Justice Gray, that they realize the enormity of their situation. Yet, they are quite casual about it; they seem pragmatic. They were caught and there was no need to make a fuss about it as long as they would be set free one day. There is a tender part in the story where Chris requests Justice Gray whether he could serve his wife’s sentence which the judge ignores. The Judge’s wife takes pity on the Haskins and begs her husband to let them off with community service but the judge is firm that he would have done so if they had not made the four fake passports to get away from England. The judge’s wife understands the problem of being from the middle class and slogging for one’s pension but she could not prevail over her husband.
Notice in the story that it is Chris who always comes up with the ideas for the new business startups or deals but it is carried to fruition by his wife Sue. She is organized, methodical, and the mastermind of their business as well as their theft. It is she who realizes after they receive the news that the post office would not be a category A status that they could get their original investment by making use of their goodwill with people. There is a lovely sentence in this short story where Chris picks to read the ‘Financial Times’ for the first time in his life and while doing so, looks for the sports pages. Yet, he manages to build a startup which is a fish-and-chips shop. The story becomes very racy toward the end but we have a notion that they wouldn’t get away with it, although, being real people, they thought they would. The financial and commercial aspects mentioned in this story are worth a second glance because it is brilliantly executed by the Haskins who otherwise were very plain individuals leading plain lives.
All in all, this was a very entertaining story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to read more Jeffrey Archer’s short stories and analyze them for you as soon as possible on my blog.
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