“Gotcha!” should be novelist Jeffrey Archer’s mantra. The author of numerous historical fiction thrillers includes the fifth book in the CLIFTON CHRONICLES, MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD which grabs the reader from the get-go and does not let them alone until another cliff hanger has been brought to conclusion, or as Archer usually is able to achieve, the ending brings the reader to call for the next installment. In the present case we wonder what is the result of the IRA bomb that has exploded on the maiden voyage of Barrington Shipping’s first cruise ship, the MV Buckingham.
In true Archer fashion the novel has a number of storylines that seems disparate, but as in other books they form links that normally bring them together before the story is brought to fruition. In MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD Archer continues a series of plot lines from BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR in addition to creating new ones. First, is the dilemma that Emma Barrington, as chair of Barrington Shipping finds herself as she does not want to let the public know about the IRA bomb explosion on the maiden voyage of the Buckingham for fear of what it might do to the company’s profits and reputation. Second, is the ongoing war perpetrated by Lady Virginia Fenwick who has sued Emma for libel, but more so is her attempt to take over Farthing Bank and destroy the Barrington family a situation that has been made easier with the death of Cedric Hardcastle. The only roadblock seems to be Sebastian Clifton’s attempt to try and purchase enough stock to gain a seat on the Farthing Bank’s board. Third, and a new area for the reader to explore is the plight of Anatoly Babakov, Joseph Stalin’s former translator who has written a book entitled, UNCLE JOE that purports to tell the truth about Stalin’s murderous reign. He has been arrested and sent into exile in Siberia and his wife is trying to get Harry Clifton to go to Moscow where she has hidden the manuscript and bring it to the west for publication. Fourth, is the role played by Adrian Sloan, who had been Sebastian’s immediate boss at Farthing Bank who has his own agenda to head the bank’s board, destroy the Barrington’s and make a large profit over his financial manipulations. Not surprisingly he is working with Lady Virginia as they seem to have a community of fate in dealing with the Barrington’s. Lastly, Sebastian’s love for Samantha Sullivan who has turned away from him remains constant.
Archer brings back Major Alex Fisher whose vendetta against the Barrington’s has not been satiated. Robert Bingham returns with his wife Priscilla who cannot be trusted, Sir Alan Redmayne, a Cabinet Secretary involved in British intelligence, and the entire Barrington family and their associates. A few new characters are introduced who play major roles. Saul Kaufman, the father of Sebastian’s friend who is a rich banker and is trying to assist Sebastian. Desmond Mellor, a dissatisfied Barrington Shipping board member who wants to replace Emma. Turkish financier Hakim Bishara joins the fray. Karin Pengelly, an East German translator who Giles Barrington meets on a foreign ministry trip to East Berlin who will cause Giles to resign from Harold Wilson’s cabinet, Maurice Swan, an educator that Sebastian needs to do right by, and Anatoly Babakov’s wife.
Archer introduces the reader to the structure of the Soviet government and how they deal with dissidents under Lenoid Brezhnev; the issue of East Berlin, the Stasi secret police, and the repression of East Germany; in an addition to the politics of British parliamentary elections. In all cases Archer continues his excellent command of historical events and personalities, including appearances by Prime Ministers Harold MacMillan and Harold Wilson, along with the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan.
One of the major highlights of the novel is how Archer juxtaposes Harry’s show trial in Leningrad after being caught trying to smuggle Babakov’s manuscript out of Russia and the libel trial of Emma at the hands of Lady Virginia. Archer’s sarcasm and sense of humor are on full display as is the impact of each event on the course of the novel. Other interesting aspects of the book that Archer unveils is the role that Harry’s photographic memory plays as the story concludes and his rendition of how Stalin died.
In Archer’s previous novels the major characters usually land on their feet, in the present instance that result is not as clear cut. But what is clear is that the reader will experience Archer’s trademark twist and turns through a series of plot changes that will bring the reader to the edge of their seats, and as per usual the book will end with a dramatic segway to the next volume in the CLIFTON CHRONICLES, COMETH THE HOURS.