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Monday, March 18, 2013

This week, we review three books by Jeffrey Archer, one of the world’s finest story-tellers. They happen to be the first three of five books that together comprise the most ambitious Clifton Chronicles.  Only Time Will Tell sees Harry Clifton searching for the truth about his (long-dead?) father, and being torn between going to Oxford to study, and joining the war against Hitler’s Germany. The Sins of the Father sees Harry aboard a warship and then in jail in the US, while his beloved Emma Barrington sets off across the Atlantic in her search for him. Best Kept Secret sees Harry and Emma cope with tribulations as man and wife and also parents, even as British political machinations get exposed through Member of Parliament, Giles Barrington. 

There is no escaping the consequences
Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is the first of five novels which are to be brought out as the Clifton Chronicles. This book has already become a multi-million bestseller. The Chronicles series is an ambitious writing project by Archer which revolves around the main protagonist, Harry Clifton and his many adventures between 1920 and 2020. It spans the period from 1920 to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1940, covering the first twenty years of Harry Clifton’s life.

It starts in typical Archer fashion, the losing of virginity, and then develops into a cracker of a story, as compulsive a   read any other Archer book, with many plot and twists that have you turning the pages, eager to learn more.

Harry Clifton, struggling to stay alive in the backstreets of Bristol, has to cope with the tragedy of his father’s death during World War 1. The shock only gets compounded when he learns that the man he always thought was his father, and a war hero, wasn’t really his real father. To Harry, who has always believed since childhood that his father was killed in WW1, this revelation about not being the son of the man he knew as Dad, comes as a truth he hates to face, but has still to delve under. The painful truth comes at a time when, after losing everything in the tragedy of the war, he was only starting to put his life together, piece by piece.

This book sees Harry trying to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death, at least the man who he regarded as his father. He has also to go out and search for the man who is his real father. World War II breaks out and Harry has to decide whether to continue with his studies at Oxford or enlist and fight against Nazi Germany.

The most moving part of this story is when Harry’s mother, Maisie, takes up prostitution in order to look after her son and put him through Oxford. Archer is a brilliant storyteller, and this book is replete with his trademark wit and intelligence. The compassion is another welcome emotion we see in this book where life is otherwise unduly cruel.

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer
Pan Macmillan
Price Rs.325

When loyalties are stretched to their limits
The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer is the second of the five novels in the Clifton Chronicles series. The misgivings that Harry Clifton had in Only Time Will Tell, about who his real father was, now destroy his marriage. While he and Emma Barrington are at the altar, Hugo Barrington stands up to declare that he is Harry’s father. To escape the trauma and give Emma a clean chance elsewhere in life, Harry moves away to join the Merchant Navy. Besides tearing the two apart, this scandal has also hurt Giles Barrington, Emma’s brother and dear friend to Harry since boyhood.

Britain soon declares war on Germany, and Harry’s ship is sunk in the Atlantic by a German U-boat. Harry and an American officer on board the ship, Tom Bradshaw, are among the few survivors rescued by an American cruise liner. When the officer dies, Harry assumes the identity of Tom Bradshaw, to unpredictably disastrous consequences.

Tom is wanted for the murder of his brother, Bill Bradshaw, so Harry, on landing in New York, is arrested for first degree murder. A crooked lawyer, Sefton Jelks, convinces him to plead guilty to a lesser charge of desertion, which still gets Harry six years in jail. Harry continues to conceal his true identity   because of his love for Emma, and because accepting Tom’s identity would ensure that 10,000 dollars will be sent to his mother, Maisie, in England.
Emma, in the meanwhile, gives birth to Harry’s child, and when visiting Maisie, sees a letter on the mantelpiece which leads her to believe that Harry is still alive. Plucky as she is, she enlists the advice and support of her grandfather, Sir Walter Barrington to set off for America in search of Harry, leaving the little child, Sebastian, in the care of his grandmother. Giles goes off to war and gets glory and recognition for valour in battle at Tobruk in Egypt.

Archer draws on his own experience of life in prison to provide a very close look at the corrupt system, writing about the hierarchy and the unique protocol that exists among inmates as well as the officials who run the prisons. 

When Sir Walter dies, ever the corrupt villain, Hugo takes over the Barrington shipping enterprise, only to run it aground. The twists continue, making for another whopping bestseller.

The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer
Pan Macmillan

When the odds are all stacked against you
Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer is the third book of the five that comprise the Clifton Chronicles, and those who have read Only Time Will Tell and The Sins of the Father, will vouch that the story has matured into an engrossing  page turner. Apart from ruining the marriage plans of Harry Clifton and Emma Barrington by announcing that Harry is in fact his son, Emma’s father, Hugo Barrington has also created a problem of inheritance between Harry and his friend, Giles Barrington, who by virtue of the announcement, has also become a brother.

As Harry and Emma are more interested in being together regardless of the slur of consanguinity, they are only too pleased to lose the court battle for property to Giles. Harry is already a well accepted thriller writer ready with another good book and Giles is a Member of Parliament facing another round of campaigning. Both decide to concentrate on their careers and nurture their friendship and family ties.

However, there is a rogue element in the form of Alex Fisher, a major, who has had run-ins with Harry as well as Giles. He is devious and eager to bring down Giles. What greater opportunity than to have Giles ex-fiancee, Virginia, on his side? With the help of a private eye who has shifting loyalties, and a trader based in Hong Kong, shares are manipulated to get greater powers on the board of Barrington’s shipping companies. However, some clever manoeuvring sees Fisher outplayed and Virginia divested of her hold on Giles and the family.

In the meanwhile, the earlier intimacy between Harry and Emma has resulted in a bonny boy named Sebastian, and he plays his first role in the Chronicles series, by helping uncle Giles with his electioneering. He detects a fraud being perpetrated in the counting of votes, done by Fisher (who else), and ensures victory for his uncle. But he is something of a good time Charlie, and has trouble in school for consorting with a serving maid and for smoking, endangering his chance for further education at Cambridge. He also has befriended a nice classmate Bruno Martinez, whose crazily rich father is actually another villain in the book.  Martinez has hobnobbed with the Nazis and is in the midst of spreading counterfeit British currency around. Sebastian becomes an unwitting collaborator. There is also a sister/aunt Jessica who Emma has rescued. Awaiting book numbers four and five.

Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer
Pan Macmillan

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