(Author, Jeffrey Archer)
Recently I had the pleasure of spending a few weeks with two English families; the Barrington’s and the Clifton’s. The family members form the core of English novelist Jeffrey Archer’s seven volume CLIFTON CHRONICLES mostly set in Bristol and London from the immediate post World War I period through the early 1990s. For this reviewer, Archer’s compilation served as a wonderful distraction to the COVID-19 19 pandemic and other disconcerting events that have been ever present. The series focuses on family values, a host of interesting characters, moral and immoral, and repeated plot twists and turns beginning with volume one, ONLY TIME WILL TELL and concluding with volume seven, THIS WAS A MAN.
Archer employs 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 each novel allowing the reader to explore each novel separately, but I would recommend that the story be read from volume one onward. Each section zeroes on one character in which Maise Clifton, Harry and Emma Clifton, Sebastian Clifton, Jessica Giles Barrington, Lady Virginia Fenwick, all play major roles.
The characters run the gamut from those mentioned to Sir Alan Redmayne a cabinet secretary in charge of MI6 reflecting Archer’s integration of espionage into his storyline along with a possible “sparrow” or Russian double agent Karin Brandt who Giles Barrington falls in love with. Baroness Cynthia Forbes-Watson, an eighty year old retired MI6 agent. Cedric Hardcastle and his son Arnold, the Barrington Shipping Company lawyer play significant roles as does Hakim Bishara, a Turkish banker who works with Sebastian Clifton to head the Farthings Kaufman bank. Aaron Guizburg and his father are Harry Clifton’s publishers at Viking Press, and Anatoly Babakov who has written UNCLE JOE telling the truth about Stalin finds himself in the Soviet Gulag allowing Harry Clifton to rally world opinion to free him.
There are a number of individuals who engage in periodic corporate machinations from trying to take over Barrington Shipping, Farthings Kaufman Bank and Mellor Travel. We meet Adrian Sloane, Jim Knowles, and Desmond Mellor who form a troika of undesirables. Adding to the list is Conrad Sorkin an international gangster. Historical figures abound as Margaret Thatcher plays a prominent role befriending Emma Clifton. Other Prime Ministers who appear include James Callaghan, Ted Heath, and Harold Wilson; in addition to politicians like Michael Foot and Dennis Healy who have a tremendous impact on the political career of Giles Barrington.
The one character who seems to pop up all the time is Lady Virginia Fenwick, Giles Barrington’s ex-spouse. She is a schemer out for revenge against anything Barrington or Clifton. She is involved in assorted plots to destroy both families and secure her wealth. My favorite is how she convinces the Duke of Hertford, a recent widow to be his wife. But she is also involved with the “undesirables” already described and their numerous corporate shenanigans.
Archer plays close attention to British politics in the House of Commons and House of Lords in each novel as the political careers of Giles Barrington and Emma Clifton evolve. Archer is deeply knowledgeable about British elections and the legislative process as he weaves them into his story. Apart from politics and corporate issues Archer integrates a number of ancillary situations involving the Clifton family including; Jessica, a precocious young artist; the rise of Sebastian to head the Farthings Kaufman Bank; Harry’s arrest in the Soviet Union working to free Anatoly Babakov; and Emma’s rise to head Barrington Shipping, and becoming her Undersecretary of Health in the House of Lords under Margaret Thatcher.
There are numerous other characters who interact with both families which reflect Archer’s command of history and new events. Archer does a wonderful job in character development and presents the chronological growth of each person and their impact on others. Archer is the master of the literary cliffhanger as at the end of each novel a situation is created that is designed to cajole the reader on to the next volume.
At a time of pandemic Archer’s volumes and the series in general is a wonderful escape from quarantine and anxiety. If it is prose one is looking for, Archer has his moments, but most often the writing is somewhat pedestrian with a touch of irony and humor. Whether he is describing speeches in the House of Lords; the interior of Buckingham Palace; the boardroom or the visitor room of a prison, Archer’s writing is authentic. When the pandemic ends and you are once again off to vacation or just the beach Archer’s work will entertain as you while away the hours dealing with his numerous subterfuges and double-crosses, as in the end he will bring his series to a deeply emotional conclusion.