In his sequel to ONLY TIME WILL TELL, THE SINS OF THE FATHER, the second installment of his CLIFTON CHRONICLES novelist Jeffrey Archer picks up exactly where le left off. Tom Bradshaw, the identity that Harry Clifton adopted after his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine finds himself accused of murder upon entering the port of New York. Clifton believed by adopting his new persona it would solve his personal and family issues that remained at home in Bristol, England. By the novel’s second page Archer has reengaged the reader with Clifton’s plight and for the next number of hours I found it difficult to put the book down. Clifton had hoped to return to the United Kingdom and join the Royal Navy to fight the Nazis, but now found himself languishing in prison banking on his lawyer Sefton Jelks to obtain his freedom.
Archer continues to employ the literary technique of allowing his major characters to tell their side of the story as it unfolds. Each character recounts how they see events and Archer allows their individual stories which are different to eventually come together. Archer recapitulates important details from the first novel through Harry Clifton’s situation – six year jail term for desertion, instead of murder, and being left in the lurch by his lawyer who sold him out to the Bradshaw family. Clifton remains madly in love with Emma Barrington, further he is obsessed to learn who his real father is, and what his role will be in the Barrington family hierarchy.
The backstory for the novel is World War II as Clifton has not lost the desire to enlist in the Royal Navy and Emma decides to travel to New York to find him. As the novel unfolds, we are introduced to the New York branch of the Barrington family in the person of Emma’s Great Aunt Phyllis Stuart and her cousin Alistair who went after Jelks for the fraud he committed that resulted in Clifton’s imprisonment. A number of characters reappear like Patrick Casey who had a relationship with Clifton’s mother Maisie; Hugo Barrington who continues his “sleazy” practices; Giles Barrington, Emma’s brother who has joined the Wessex Regiment and is a hero at Tobruk; Stanley Tancock, Clifton’s deranged uncle; Lieutenant Fisher who had harassed Clifton when they attended boarding school together; Walter Barrington, the fair minded head of the Barrington Shipping Company: Lord Harvey, Emma’s grandfather; Mr. Holcomb, Clifton’s former teacher, among a number of others. New characters appear that enhance the plot; Sefton Jelks, a corrupt New York lawyer; Pat Quinn, Clifton’s cellmate; Terry Bates, who fought with Giles at Tobruk; Olga Piotrovska, Hugo Barrington’s lover; Mr. Guinzburg, editor at Viking Publishing; Max Lloyd, worked with Clifton in the prison library; Colonel Cleverdon, recruited Clifton for US Special Forces, Sebastian, Emma and Clifton’s son, and others who make for a fascinating read as Archer has the ability to develop his characters in such a way that the reader is drawn to them and for a few the reader can become emotionally involved with.
As Archer tells his story through Maisie Clifton, Hugo Barrington, Emma Barrington, and Harry Clifton the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the story line. As the novel progresses, Archer accurately introduces a number of shifts in the plot that relate to wartime events such as Pearl Harbor, Torbruk, Stalingrad, and German bombing of Bristol and London. Over time Archer’s characters develop in a positive fashion like Maisie and Emma, and others like Hugo Barrington and Sefton Jelks deteriorate further through their narcissistic personalities.
Archer’s calculated plot twists keeps the reader totally engaged in the story. He has the knack of setting the stage for events and reactions before they occur by dropping hints earlier in the story that come to fruition later. The story has a series of highs and lows which the reader must adapt to, in addition Archer deftly is able to switch from scene to scene and character to character without detracting from the flow of the novel.
Archer is obviously a master storyteller that has produced a collection of novels that form the CLIFTON CHRONICLES which are excellent beach, airplane, or plain escapist reading. Archer’s unique conclusion should encourage his audience to read the next installment in the series, BEST KEPT SECRET.
How did I go years without reading a Jeffrey Archer novel? Periodically, friends would recommend his work, but it was not until I listened to a recent NPR interview with Archer that my interest was piqued. The selection I chose was ONLY TIME WILL TELL the first installment of the CLIFTON CHRONICLES and it was a revelation.
Archer has written a novel involving a series of relationships told through the voices of a number of characters. Set in England from the end of World War I through the outbreak of World War II it involves two families; the Clifton’s, lower class and poor, the Barrington’s, upper class and rich. Their interactions are based on a past history brought forward setting the tone and the course of the storyline. Archer’s yarn is told through the differing perspectives of Maisie Clifton, a widow whose son has the great gift of voice, but the family is entrenched in poverty. Hugo Barrington, a man whose one night fling has brought his hopes for his own family to a crisis despite their wealth. Old Jack Tar, a man who has not gotten over his experience in the Boer War who knows everyone’s secrets and lives in a railroad car on Barrington property. Giles Barrington, Hugo’s heir. Emma Barrington, Giles’ sister who falls in love with his best friend. Finally, Harry Clifton, whose hard work leads him to Oxford, but also to an unusual dilemma.
Archer does an accurate job presenting the class system that dominates English society. The snobbery and deceit of the English upper class is on full display as characters interact driving the actions of a number of individuals. Archer takes the reader through the experience of attending an English boarding school and the intense competition to gain entrance to premier schools like Eton and Oxford. The plight of English labor is explored in detail concentrating on the docks of Bristol, England.
The death of Arthur Clifton, Maisie’s husband forms the backstory of the novel. Wounded in World War I Arthur would die a few years later. The truth about his death is hidden because it could upend Hugo Barrington’s life plan and will have grave implications for his children. Only a few people know the truth, and it is kept from Maisie’s son, Harry. It seems that the Barrington Shipyard experiences an accident where Arthur, one of their workers is accidentally welded inside one of the companies ships where he perishes. Archer has the knack of bringing two parallel stories told by separate characters that eventually come together creating an intense drama.
The story is full of anger and lies, but also the determination of a mother to allow her son to maximize his amazing talent despite the family’s poverty. Archer writes as if he is creating a puzzle, and as the story unfolds the pieces seem to fit perfectly. Each of the major characters has their own story that explains their actions. For example, Old Jack Tar is really Captain Jack Tarrant who earned the Victoria Cross for saving over twenty of his compatriots during the Boer War, but he believes that he is responsible for the death of eleven Boer civilians. His guilt controls his life and enforces a self-inflicted prison which dominates a good part of his behavior which includes developing a wonderful relationship with Harry Clifton from the time the boy was five years old. He will become his mentor and greatly influence his life.
Hugo Barrington represents the seamier side of English society as he employs detectives, pays off witnesses, frames people who are then imprisoned and in general behaves like the spoiled “bastard” that he is. He tries to control his family and the family Shipyard through intimidation and threats. Hugo and other individuals reflect Archer’s ability to develop the personalities of his characters in a thoughtful and meaningful way. As one reads on you feel that you know these people intimately and become emotionally entangled in their lives.
Archer possesses an excellent command of English history and integrates historical personalities like Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill along with important events leading to World War II very nicely. After reading ONLY TIME WILL TELL I feel as if I have begun a journey with the Clifton’s and since there are six other volumes in the CLIFTON CHRONICLES, I have a great deal of reading pleasure on the horizon particularly since Harry Clifton made a rather unusual decision as the novel comes to an end.
For those of you who are too young or have forgotten their history the above words of wisdom did not emanate from Donald Trump but from Richard Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro T. Agnew. Some would argue that Agnew has passed on to the dust bin of history, but if one is looking for the words of a demagogue we can begin with Joseph McCarthy, follow with Agnew, and just look at the daily tweets of the current president. Agnew’s tale may have receded into the past, but it has been resurrected by MSNBC program host Rachel Madow and television producer Michael Yarvitz’s new book, BAG MAN: THE WILD CRIMES, AUDACIOUS COVER-UP AND SPECTACULAR DOWNFALL OF A BRAZEN CROOK IN THE WHITE HOUSE.
Madow and Yarvitz offer a breezy, well documented account of how a sitting Vice President Spiro T. Agnew ran an undercover bribery and extortion scheme from inside the White House. Agnew’s machinations were a continuation of a process he had developed as Baltimore County Executive and later as Governor of Maryland. The authors describe the investigation of three young prosecutors from Baltimore; Barney Skolnik, Ron Leibman, and Tim Baker that began as a case against a few engineering firms with contracts with Baltimore County, an area surrounding the city of Baltimore that was booming in the 1960s and 70s that eventually led to Agnew. The problem that emerged was that the Watergate investigation was well underway and the number two man to the president was also a crook!
(Attorney General Elliot Richardson)
If the Agnew scandal had not occurred during Watergate it would have been considered one of the most sordid chapters visited upon the White House in the pre-Trump era. In telling the reader about Agnew’s tale, the authors focus on a corrupt occupant of the White House “whose crimes are discovered by his own Justice Department and who clings to high office by using power and prerogative of the same office to save himself.” Maddow and Yarvitz explore the strategies pursued by prosecutors and Agnew’s defense which raises some interesting historical tidbits. For example, Agnew was able to get Nixon to pressure the US Attorney George Beall to drop the case. Nixon enlisted his new Chief of Staff Alexander Haig (H.R. Haldeman had resigned over Watergate) to approach Maryland Senator Glenn Beall to call off his younger brother who was the US Attorney in charge of the investigation. When that did not work, he enlisted George Herbert Walker Bush, the future Vice President and President to engage in obstruction of justice by pressuring Beall. To his credit Beall refused and protected his prosecutors from the administration. In Jon Meacham’s biography of Bush, he hems and haws about Bush’s role in Iran-Contra, but never mentions his role in the Agnew case. Perhaps he should rework his hagiography of Bush.
There are numerous examples of the author’s attention to detail and insights. A wonderful example surrounds Agnew’s refusal to fade away into the night and arguing that he would fight for his job all the way to the Supreme Court employing the logic that a sitting Vice President could not be criminally indicted unless they were impeached by the House and removed by the Senate. If the Supreme Court rejected the argument, a strategy already employed by Nixon’s lawyers, then the President would also be in trouble. This explains why Nixon had enough of Agnew and sent Haig to tell him to resign. It is somewhat humorous how the authors present a president seemingly drowning in his own scandals having to deal with a Vice President who demanded support in weaseling out of his own crimes.
(Attorney General Elliot Richardson and US Attorney George Beall)
The authors do an exceptional job placing the Agnew scandal in the context of Watergate. Their job was facilitated by tapes and documents that seemingly were buried for decades which they have brought to life integrating verbatim transcripts to support their conclusions. The use of hours and hours of White House tapes, secretly recorded, as well as an audio diary dictated by H.R. Haldeman is a treasure trove of information that prosecutors did not have in 1973. They zero in on the investigation of Agnew and relate a number of scenes dealing with the prosecutors, Agnew-Nixon meetings, the comments by Agnew’s defense lawyers, and the machinations of the Nixon administration which are all priceless. When the authors inform the former prosecutors what they have learned they are amazed, “Wow! Agnew said my name! Oh joy….makes my whole life worthwhile.”
If there are heroes that emerge from the Agnew fiasco, they are Attorney General Elliot Richardson who allowed his office to pursue the case. Interestingly, it was Richardson who refused to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox when ordered to by Nixon as part of the Saturday Night Massacre. The next hero is George Beall who withstood immense pressure from the Nixon administration and his brother to stop the investigation. Beall refused and shielded his prosecutors to allow them to perform their constitutional duties.
The link to current events rest with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel which ruled that a sitting Vice President could be indicted, but a president could not. The 1973 ruling was cited by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to explain why he could not indict Donald Trump. The ruling has never been tested in the courts and provides a loophole for future presidents to follow in Trump’s footsteps.
Agnew’s “pay for play” activities are delineated in detail as his convoluted defense and uproarious personality, along with his bullying tactics-sound familiar? In 1973 the American people were able to get rid of a criminal through prosecution and eventual resignation, today luckily, we are able to rely on the elective process because the likes of Bill Barr and Republicans in the Senate refused to perform their constitutional duties.
A favorite question that was asked by pundits and historians in 1989 revolved around who was responsible for the bringing down of the Berlin Wall, and two years later the collapse of the Soviet Union. President George H.W. Bush took credit for winning the Cold War, while others argued it was due to the Reagan presidency. In his new book, SAVING FREEDOM: TRUMAN, THE COLD WAR, AND THE FIGHTFOR WESTERN CIVILIZATION MSNBC “Morning Joe” host, Joe Scarborough argues that it was because of the policies implemented by President Harry S. Truman which allowed the United States to become the lone superpower in the early 1990s.
For those who are conversant with the events and personalities that dominated the foreign policy debate in the post-World War era Scarborough offers little that has not been written elsewhere. However, to the author’s credit he tells an absorbing story that created the foundation of American foreign policy that lasted for over seven decades.
One of the books dominant themes is the idea that the United States should assume the mantle of world leadership because of the vacuum created by England’s financial distress and the socialist agenda of the Labour Party. This concept was the anti-thesis of American foreign policy since the founding of the republic and George Washington’s “Farewell Address” that called for “no entangling alliances” and became the basis of American isolationism. The Democratic Party had been open to world leadership dating to Woodrow Wilson’s concept of economic internationalism, but the 1920s saw a fundamental change brought about by Republican disengagement on the world stage. Scarborough argues it took men like George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, and Harry Truman to confront Soviet expansionism along with Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg for the United States to accept the challenge and implement a policy of containment rather than pre-war appeasement when confronted by a threatening autocracy.
(Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson shaking hands with President Truman)
Scarborough begins his argument with the situation that existed in Greece in 1946 and tries argues that aid to Greece and Turkey formed the basis of the Truman Doctrine discussed in the context of the history of American foreign relations. In doing so, Scarborough, for me at least has written a rendition of “Foreign Policy for Dummies” as he provides a series of broad surveys of foreign policy issues in each chapter to explain events. At times he goes a bit far exemplified by the unnecessary chapter dealing with Palestine. Scarborough at times can be somewhat verbose as he frames situations, for example, “Soviet ambitions were set in motion. Like a shark smelling blood in the ocean, Stalin was ready to move on British former colonies and clients.” Further, Scarborough has the annoying habit at the conclusion of a number of chapters resorting to a false sense of drama by asking superficial questions, I assume to enhance a sense of foreboding. I would suggest that he let the material playout, rather forcing the narrative.
As I read the book, I got the feeling that the monograph was overly interspersed with speeches, whether Truman on the stump trying to gain support for aid to Greece and Turkey, speeches by Senators and House members in their respective committees or on the floor of the Senate and House chambers, and witnesses called before Congressional committees. At times I felt I was reading a book of speeches and dialogue linked by a narrative rather than a discussion that had great potential for insight and analysis. Further, when one examines Scarborough’s sources, he provides extraordinarily little. With no end notes or bibliography, he offers a short bibliographical essay that encompasses roughly sixteen secondary sources and the mention of the THE FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES (FRUS) series published by the State Department. Further he should pay more attention to critical details like his discussion of the Monroe Doctrine visa vie the Truman Doctrine as he leaves out the role of the British and their Foreign Secretary, George Canning. He may argue that the Truman Doctrine was the successor to the Monroe Doctrine, but he forgets that at the turn of the century Theodore Roosevelt instituted the Roosevelt Corollary.
To Scarborough’s credit he writes in a noticeably clear and understandable prose. His discussion of the debate in Congress, newspapers, and the personalities involved reflects a command of the historical material, and his coverage of political negotiations and the preparation of the American people for the passage of the Truman Doctrine and its significance is well done. He stresses the reactionary and regressive nature of the Greek regime as an obstacle to obtaining Congressional aid and his analysis of Truman’s speech to Congress is dead on. But again, at times he is prone to overstatement. His key argument is strong that Truman engaged in one of the “greatest selling” jobs of any president as he convinced an isolationist leaning congress to support an internationalist policy.
In the end we are left with a dichotomy; an incomplete narrative, but with a theme that seems to hold together in terms of the importance of the Truman Doctrine over the last seventy years or so. If there is a lesson to be learned from Scarborough’s monograph it is the importance of pursuing bipartisan approaches to major foreign policy issues and that politicians need to weigh issues in relation to their effect on American national security, not political polls, commentary of pundits on cable news, or the demands of an autocratic leaning president.
(President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his news conference in the briefing room of the White House, Dec. 16, 2016, in Washington, D.C.)
After listening to a 46 minute incoherent rant last night by Donald Trump about how the election was stolen from him and other conspiracy theories I was pleased to sit down in a quiet corner of my study and engage Barack Obama’s new memoir, A PROMISED LAND. The comparison between Trump and Obama is alarming as one man uses (ed) the presidency as if were a vehicle for wealth accumulation and as a means of destroying anyone who disagreed with him, while the other, whether you agreed with him or not was sincere about carrying out his constitutional duties as chief executive in a reasonable manner.
Obama has written an engaging memoir that encompasses his early years to his life in Chicago, his early political career, and the first three years of his presidency through the killing of Osama Bin-Ladin. It is clearly written and reflects a great deal of thought, a remarkable knowledge of history, and personal detail which is missing from most presidential memoirs. Over the years I have read all the existing presidential memoirs since Harry Truman’s two volume contribution and would argue for breadth of detail, insightful analysis, candor, and substance, Obama’s memoir should be on the top of the list as he avoids much of the trenchant narrative that his predecessors engaged in.
Obama’s narrative has three major components. First, the personal. Obama is incredibly open about the effect of his political career on his marriage and children. Further, he has no compunction about hiding his feelings about the likes Mitch McConnell, Stanley McCrystal, Hillary Clinton, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Ted Kennedy, David Axelrod and countless others. Second, reflecting his broad historical knowledge he provides introductions, in addition to lessons for each issue he is confronted with be it the 2008 financial crisis, Iran’s nuclear program, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to deal with Vladimir Putin, pandemics, among the many problems he faced on a daily basis. Lastly, the core of any presidential memoir is his political career, relations with other politicians, and trying to gain passage of important legislation, i.e.; the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, and regulating financial institutions.
(Michelle and Barack Obama)
In all areas he explains his decision-making process as he attempted to solve the problems America faced on a daily basis. A case in point was his approach to troop levels in Afghanistan when he assumed the presidency. The Pentagon favored the “McCrystal Plan” that called for a 40,000 troop increase that would bring troop levels to over 100,000 and would probably keep America in Afghanistan long after an Obama presidency ended, even if he served two terms. Obama as he does in most cases breaks down how he worked with Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reach a compromise of 17,000 men but setting a controversial withdrawal date for American forces. But no matter what issue Obama discusses be it the inherited economic crisis, rethinking the U.S.’s place in the world, racist resentment lurks below, and its stench rises into sharper focus seemingly in each chapter.
Obama’s writing and approach is not perfect and he like others tends to get bogged down in details, but he has the ability to integrate personal observations on a host of issues and personalities that most readers should find on one level, charming, but also quite interesting. Obama conveys his views very carefully and succinctly as he opens a window to his private life and presidency. At the forefront is his relationship with his wife Michelle. He is very honest about the role she played in his career and sacrificing a great deal personally as she took over direction of their two daughters. She was against his pursuit of a political career, though she provided her full support. But it is clear from her own memoir that she despised politics. It is also clear throughout the narrative that Obama agonized over how his political career and the presidency in particular affected his family, but it did not derail his belief that he could change America for the better and bridge the partisan divide, a belief that reflects his naivete in dealing with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
(Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama)
Of the many important subjects that Obama addresses a number stand out which remain problematical to this day. It seems that at every turn the Republicans led by Senator Mitch McConnell and John Boehner that their goal was to make sure he was a one term president. These feelings on the part of Republicans in general were based on the need to maintain power, but in Obama’s case it had racial overtones. The Professor Louis Gates affair that resulted in the infamous “beer summit” at the White House is very reflective of the racial issue. Obama tried to downplay the arrest of Gates, a Harvard professor who was placed in handcuffs as he tried to enter his own home. But when Obama supported his friend the criticism of the president by the conservative right was heightened. What is crystal clear was that as a Republican you were not supposed to cooperate with Obama and if you did it would negatively affect your political career. Obama would comment on conservatives’ reactions to him in many cases as “have they lost their minds.”
The 2008 financial crisis, that produced the TARP legislation at the end of the Bush administration, the Recovery Act, and the auto industry bailout are dealt with in detail. Dealing with the crisis before he assumed office and immediately after his inauguration it reflects Obama’s deference to the quality of his cabinet and advisers. He weighed all recommendations and relied heavily on the likes of Tim Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury and others. He clearly explains the machinations of bankers, hedge fund managers, and others that brought the United States and many of its citizens to financial disaster and in many cases, particularly among minorities and other segments of society who to this day have not totally recovered. Obama takes the reader inside the George W. Bush administration cabinet room as well as his own as attempts at legislating an end to the crisis – very eye opening.
Obama’s commentary on foreign policy issues is a blend of hard nose realism and baseless hope. Dealing with Russia easily comes to mind. When Vladimir Putin stepped aside and allowed Dimitry Medvedev to assume power in Russia, Obama felt he might have a partner in his “Russian reset.” Though fully aware that Putin was pulling the strings from behind he clung to the idea that progress could be made. His description of his first summit with Putin who in a rather forceful manner harangued the American delegation about American slights toward Russia and the damage the NATO expansion, the financial crisis, and constant human rights complaints which the Russian leader believed humiliated his country. This should have opened Obama’s eyes as he experienced the “real Putin” and developed a firmer response toward the Russian autocrat.
(The Obama Cabinet)
Relations with Iran attract a great deal of attention, as does his approach toward the Shi’ite government in Iraq under Nuri al-Maliki, the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, the disingenuous Pakistani government, and relations with Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and English Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama’s remarks are priceless as he provides details dealing with all of these issues and relationships. Clearly, he was taken aback in a number of situations, particularly the awarding of the Nobel Prize which he himself knew he really had done nothing to earn other than not being George Bush and becoming the first black American president. His comment is revealing; “for what?”
On the domestic front Obama expresses a vibe of disbelief as he tried to develop legislation on a number of important topics. In dealing with the financial crisis Wall Street and banking reform was called for which in the end would result in Dodd-Frank, which for many did not go far enough. Environmental problems festered and getting republicans to accept climate change was a big ask which of course negated any comprehensive legislation to regulate corporations and lobbyists. However, as some progress was made, the Deep Water Horizon Spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico changed everyone’s focus. In what some have called “Obama’s Katrina” the president takes the reader inside the government and BP’s attempts at ameliorating the situation. As Obama states, each day seemed to bring a new crisis, many of which his administration was not prepared for.
Aside from a narrative focused on policy and personalities, Obama makes an interesting point in discussing his own upbringing in Indonesia, Hawaii, and frequent visits to Kenya, and how it affected his later approach to problem solving. His background was one of diversity and his approach to foreign policy and domestic decisions dealing with minorities and poverty bear this out. Perhaps Obama’s background helps explains his appearance of being aloof and “cool,” traits that seemed to alienate anyone who disagreed with him be it on the left or right of the political spectrum.
Overall, Obama’s massive memoir, which has another volume which will be released at some point in the future is an exercise in choosing topics that he felt comfortable examining leaving out certain aspects of his presidency that may not cast a favorable light. For example, there was a 700% increase in drone strikes in Pakistan which receives little mention. Obama’s approach to the Arab spring and his chaotic policy toward Libya merits greater discussion. Under Obama administration policies deportation of immigrants rose markedly as did the prosecution of government whistle blowers. These issues are important, but in comparison to the coverage that Obama provides they do not detract from my view of the importance of this memoir and for many setting the political record straight. For Obama it appears that if he laid out his thinking in sufficient detail, along with the constellation of obstacles and constraints he faced, any reasonable American will understand why he governed as he did. No matter how much he may internalize this belief our current political environment reflects that his premise is wrong.
(An excerpt of former President Barack Obama’s upcoming memoir “A Promised Land” was released Monday by the New Yorker.)