Intrigue, ambition and treachery. Jeffrey Archer’s first volume of the Clifton Chronicles has a story line that is racy, a plot that is complex and a conclusion that will leave you scrambling to lay hands on the second volume. Harry Clifton leads a dreary and impoverished existence with a hardworking mother Maisie Clifton, an inebriated uncle Stan who when not working in the docks is slugging away at bottles of lager; and a pair of grandparents made of kindly disposition. A chance meeting with ‘Old Jack’ who surprisingly has a Pullman coach carriage for a home near the docks, changes both the life and outlook of young Harry Clifton. An angelic voice that aids and abets in the lad getting a choral scholarship at the prestigious school of St Bede’s adds to the good fortune. However Harry’s mind is riddled with one burning and ever present question. How did his father the late Arthur Clifton meet with an untimely end to what was otherwise a fulfilling existence? Even Maisie does not seem to have a satisfactory answer to the consuming mystery.
At St Bede’s the rustic Harry Clifton meets a cultured, affluent and affable fellow pupil Giles Barrington. Barrington guides Clifton through the maze of etiquette, customs and traditions hitherto reserved for the high and mighty. However, upon a visit to Giles’ mansion to celebrate his friend’s twelfth birthday, Harry Clifton comes face to face with Giles’ father, the formidable Hugo Barrington. When Harry introduces himself to Hugo Barrington, for some obscure reason, the millionaire not only refuses to shake the boy’s hands but also leaves his presence, perplexing both Giles and Harry. Is the reason for such a deprecating behaviour attributable to Harry’s parentage? The mystery deepens when Harry falls in love with Emma Barrington, the attractive younger sister of Giles. Will Harry succeed in ascertaining the actual fate that befell his father? Only Time Will Tell.
Archer here is in his elemental zone. With a style that is smooth, flowing and easy, Archer weaves a story that ebbs, surges, cascades and tears ahead, never once meandering. The creation of the characters once again provides monument to the mastery of Jeffrey Archer as a born story teller. The confidence as well as the vulnerability of Harry Clifton endears him to the reader as he struggles with dignity and bearing to find his feet in an unknown and unforgiving world. Old Jack shines in his almost “Gandalfesque” role as he handholds Harry towards a more promising life and future. However the star of the book, when not even being the protagonist is the effervescent Giles Barrington. Ever ready at the side of his less privileged but immensely talented friend, Giles treats Harry as his equal and shares in his sorrows with an innate sense of brotherhood. Hugo Barrington’s lurking presence is a sign of some ominous foreboding while Maisie Clifton is the perfect epitome of a maternal soul who is willing to go to any length to ensure that the depravity suffered by the Clifton household does not become an automatic accompaniment of her hard working son.
Only Time Will Tell – A Tale Marvelously Told!