THE FORGER’S DAUGHTER by Bradford Morrow

Cover art

Will is a reformed rare book and manuscript forger who has spent the last twenty years on the straight and narrow living a placid existence with his loving wife, Meghan and two daughters Nicole and Maisie.  This idyllic life will be upended as an old enemy of Will has aggressively confronted the eleven year old Maisie in their Hudson Valley, NY home and forced a package upon her that was to be given to her father.  Will fervently believed that he had settled all accounts and claims from his past but now in Bradford Morrow’s exquisite sequel to THE FORGERS, entitled THE FORGER’S DAUGHTER he is faced with a decision that could upend his family and their way of life. 

Morrow is a talented novelist who in 2014 decided to write a thriller that depicted the underside of the rare book and manuscript world, a world in which Morrow was well versed.  His readers will be quite satisfied with his latest effort as he continues to impart the seamier side of his protagonist’s avocation.  After his daughter is attacked, Will is confronted with Henry Slader who has reappeared after being released from prison having served a sentence after brutally attacking Will with a meat cleaver while he and the family were living in Kenmare, Ireland severely damaging his right hand when he refused to go along with Sadler’s demands.  Lingering in the background throughout the novel is the murder of Meghan’s brother Adam Diehl, another practitioner of literary forgery twenty years earlier, and Will’s own sordid literary  past.


(author, Bradford Morrow)

Morrow’s approach to preparing and writing a mystery thriller is intellectually satisfying with his repeated references and excerpts from the works of numerous literary figures including, Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and W.B. Yeats.  As in the first novel, Morrow’s obsession with anything related to Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes character pervades the story.  Morrow places Will in a very tenuous position as Slader demands that he reproduce a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book TAMERLANE which with only twelve known copies in circulation is considered the holy grail of American letters.  The story unfolds carefully and selectively as Will and Meghan co-narrate the story telling the tale through alternating chapters.

The novel travels evocatively from upstate New York farmhouses to Manhattan auction houses, and there’s an aptly gothic tinge to the tense drama that ensues.  Will does not realize how dangerous Slader’s request and threats pose to his family as to complete the task he must coopt his twenty year old daughter Nicole who he has trained and imparted his knowledge and calligraphical skills over the years. 

Shops in village of Rhinebeck, New York, USA Stock Photo

(Rhinebeck, NY downtown)

Despite his misgivings Will proceeded as he felt a weird kinship with Slader who he realized was his equal in the dark craft of forgery.  While he mistrusted Slader he was somewhat envious of him as he concluded that the two of them had survived the machinations against each other and had shattered each other’s lives in significant ways as they had been extremely competitive even before they formally met.  Will concluded that Slader was no worse a transgressor than he was himself and started to accept the idea that had they been collaborators instead of competitors, God knows what satanic masterpieces they might have produced.  But what Will most regretted was that he would have to involve Nicole in the project.   

The novel progresses as Will and Meghan narrate chapters sharing their emotions and misgivings about what Slader had roped Will into doing. Through Will and to a lesser extent Nicole the reader will be exposed to the mechanics of preparing forgeries and the emotional toll that it takes.  Further, Morrow relates how the avocation of bookselling was carried out and the numerous steps involved in preparing, pricing, and selling books to book dealers, private citizens, or the general public.

As is the case in all of Morrow’s novels he is a master in creating meaningful characters.  In THE FORGER’S DAUGHTER they include Henry Slader, a narcissist who is the source of many of Will’s demons; Nicole, Will and Meghan’s perceptive and talented daughter; and Atticus Moore, Will’s rare old book compatriot who reemerges after twenty years.

After spending most of the novel in upstate New York in their Hudson Valley farmhouse Will and Meghan will return to Manhattan and make a spectacular discovery in their bookstore.  The discovery will lead to an unexpected turn in the plot line that produces a wild finish to the novel.  You do not have to be an obsessive book devotee to enjoy THE FORGER’S DAUGHTER as it stands alone as a wonderful literary thriller.

THE FORGERS by Bradford Morrow

Lighthouse at Montauk point, Long Islans Lighthouse at Montauk point, Long Islans. montauk stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

(Montauk, LI lighthouse)

After reading Bradford Morrow’s PRAGUE SONATA I knew that I had to move on to another of his novels.  The choice I made, THE FORGERS, is an excellent and absorbing story that delves into the corrupt and invidious nature of the rare book collector’s world in addition to a murder mystery that is dominated by love and obsessions.  The novel begins in the upscale community of Montauk, NY, a town located on the eastern most tip of Long Island where the postman on a routine delivery enters a beachfront cottage and discovers the body of a local resident with its hands cut off.  The scene is littered with manuscripts by political and literary figures from an earlier era with other rare books splayed on the floor.  Book inscriptions were torn from works on Lincoln, Churchill, Twain, Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Many of the books were torn to shreds and the victim, Adam Diehl, a book collector seems the subject of a ruthless and senseless murder.

The narrator of the novel is named Will, though for some reason Morrow does not divulge his name for the first half of the book.  The murder seems rather odd as many valuable books were not taken or damaged.  Will is dating Diehl’s sister, Meghan and never really got along with her brother.  Meghan operates a bookstore in the East Village and Will and Adam had been book forgers which is the only thing they had in common.  Morrow delves into the emotional attachment that rare book collectors share as Will points out the eroticism, emotion, and true happiness that forging a manuscript or inscription gave him.

East Village Books, 99 St Marks Pl, New York, NY. exterior storefront of a used bookstore in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Stock Photo

Will is a complex character whose forging career ended abruptly when an unknown source turned him into the police.  He was convicted and given probation ordering restitution to his victims and he served his time and thought it was all behind him.  Trying to live on the straight and narrow was difficult because for Will, forging was an addiction that he could not share with Meghan who he deeply loved.  The murder itself will soon become a cold case though Will had come across an invoice from a Henry Slader when they were cleaning the cottage after the police had wrapped up the case.  Slater seemed to have purchased some of Adam’s books and forgeries and was receiving monthly installments from Adam.  Will suspected Slader but had no proof.

Will shared the forger’s life with Adam but also a love of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes in addition to any letters or manuscripts that dealt with the author. Will’s obsession with Holmes began in childhood and he had purchased a number of Holmes materials from a dealer in Providence, RI.  The materials were a fraud, but Will admired the forgery as the finest he had ever seen reflecting his love of his craft and his admiration for others  who pursued the same avocation as he did. 

Will had begun to receive threatening letters in a forged Henry James script at the time he started dating Meghan.  He assumed they were from Adam, but after his murder the letters continued.  Will was haunted by the letters and was afraid that their author would turn him into the police as Adam’s murderer.  At the same time Will was convinced that the author of the letters was the true murderer.

Best Kept Small Town 2017
(Kenmare, Ireland)

After marrying, Meghan and Will decide to sell off all their possessions and move to Ireland.  Will took some of the proceeds from selling his valuable collections to pay Slader off, hoping the letters would stop and he would be able to begin a new life with his bride in Ireland.  Will’s wish was not to be granted as new letters arrived as they were moving, and he was convinced that he was being stalked by Slader after their relocation.

Morrow is a superb novelist, a teacher at Bard College, and the editor of the distinguished literary magazine, Conjunctions.  He himself is a serious book collector with a particular interest in books inscribed by their authors to notable friends, or volumes that once belonged to other famous people.  As the novel unfolds it is obvious that Morrow has a particular love of rare books and when he has Will add inscriptions that are perfect forgeries to the front-end papers.  Will is extremely talented  and states that “when I am finished copying a warm personal epistle to one of the author’s friends, for instance, a part of my soul merged with Doyle’s.”  Will prided himself on fooling the experts.

Morrow’s writing has almost a lyrical quality to it be it a mundane conversation or references to poets or masters of fiction.  As Morrow proceeds, he periodically turns to the past as Will acknowledges his artistic mother who taught him his calligraphic skills, and his wealthy father who taught him about collecting rare books and the pleasure that it brought him.  When Morrow returns to the present, Meghan and Will are in Ireland trying to escape the past, but the past seems to rise up as they cannot escape Adam’s death and the threats against Will.

This is an audacious novel with intricate details ranging from the Irish countryside, the shape of letters and the type of ink used to scribe, to unpacking a complex story that may move slowly at times, but the language is precise and at times beautiful.  Obviously, I greatly enjoyed the book and if you do, we are in luck because after seven years Morrow has just published the sequel, THE FORGER’S DAUGHTER.

Montauk Lighthouse and beach aerial shot Montauk Lighthouse and beach aerial shot, Long Island, New York, USA. Beach Stock Photo
(Montauk, LI lighthouse)

GERMANIA by Harald Gilbers

Bombed Out Berlin
(Berlin at the conclusion of World War II)

With the untimely passing of Philip Kerr that ended his wonderful Bernie Gunther series I have been searching for a replacement that deals with police investigations within Nazi Germany apart from a total focus on the Holocaust.  I have explored Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath mysteries whose focus is at the end of the Weimar era as the Nazis are about to come to power.  The series is very satisfying as is Harald Gilbers novel, GERMANIA, the first to be translated from the German with two to follow.  Gilbers’ protagonist is a Jewish investigator named Richard Oppenheimer who had been fired long before the case that the author introduces.  The book was first published in Germany in 2013 and received the Friedrich Glausner Prize for best crime fiction debut.

The novel begins in bombed out Berlin in May 1944 where people gear up on a nightly basis for allied bombing. Oppenheimer and his wife Lisa, an Aryan are huddled together in the Jewish house where they live with other families in very crowded conditions.  One evening the SS shows up at the house and they transport Oppenheimer to a murder scene.  Since he has been let go as a detective years before Oppenheimer is at a loss as to why the SS is interested in his opinion.  The employment of Oppenheimer is the brainchild of Hauptsturmfuhrer Volger of the SS who believes that Oppenheimer’s past experience with a serial killer would be valuable with his investigation.  As Oppenheimer becomes involved in the case it seems that the murder of Inge Friedrichsen is only the first as two other women, Julie Dufour and Christina Gerdeler have also been victims within the last year.


The Lebensborn program was created by the SS in late 1935 in order to promote the growth of Germany’s healthy “Aryan” population. The term Lebensborn itself means “Fount of Life.” The program was designed to be the wellspring of future generations descended from those whom Nazi authorities deemed “racially valuable.” It originally focused on encouraging SS men to have large families and discouraging unmarried, pregnant “Aryan” women from seeking illegal abortions.

Front cover of a Lebensborn program brochure
(the symbol of the Nazi Lebensborn program)

Gilbers does an excellent job creating the ambiance of Berlin in May 1944 as the Nazi capital has become an obstacle course ridden with rubble from allied bombing.  Gilbers’ command of the history of the period is quite extensive as Albert Speer and Hitler’s grand architectural plans for the new city of Germania (to replace Berlin) are neatly integrated into the story.  Gilbers development of the Hildegard von Strachwitz’s character (Hilde) brings forth Kristallnacht as she begins her close friendship with Oppenheimer as she rescued him from an SA mob during the evening’s destruction.  Hilde, a rabid anti-Nazi and physician has done a great deal of work in psychiatry and become Oppenheimer’s alter ego as he tries to solve the murders.

Gilbers’ dive into Nazi history focuses on the distrust and deadly competition within the SS as Volger and Oppenheimer deal with their investigation that could involve the Nazi Lebensborn program.  Nazi racial theory called for pure blooded Germans and with the cost of Hitler’s war effort millions of German males would be needed to fight for the Fuhrer, so the program was ratcheted up.  It seems that Inge Friedrichsen had been a secretary at Klosterhide, one of the many Lebensborn sites the Nazis created, in addition her son Horst was part of the program.

It is clear to Volger that Oppenheimer is an excellent investigator, and he accepts the pressure from SS hire ups that he is working with a Jew.  The interaction between characters is one of the strengths of the novel.  The Volger-Oppenheimer dynamic is important as is the Hilde-Oppenheimer relationship.  For Oppenheimer he is in a quandary.  Should he assist in tracking down the killer or take advantage of an opportunity to get his wife and himself out of the country as Gilbers describes the plight of Jews in the east.

Heinrich Himmler
(Heinrich Himmler)

The story line unfolds very slowly, and the reader does not become aware of the murder of Dufour and Gerdeler until about a third of the book has passed.  Gilbers picks up the pace about halfway through the novel as the Nazi shadow begins to dominate.  To Gilbers’ credit he incorporates little known aspects of life under the Nazis as a few thousand German Jews were still living in Berlin because like Oppenheimer they were married to a Christian woman.  In addition, he refers to Oppenheimer’s use of Pervitin, a stimulant to get through the day, as well as its pervasive use by German troops, particularly tankers on the eastern front.

Gilbers does a nice job allowing the reader to project into the recesses of the killer’s mind as he describes the methods the killer used to eliminate his victims, the staging of the murders, and disposing of their bodies.  Certain aspects of the crime lead one to believe that the killer is a member of the SS which adds to the level of horror as Gilbers’ novel unfolds but its conclusion takes on a much different path.

For a debut novel GERMANIA is a success and it makes me want to read the next installment of Richard Oppenheimer’s adventures.  Hopefully, the English translation will appear soon as he has left the reader wondering what the fate of Oppenhiemer and his wife Lisa is.

The area extending north beyond the Brandenburg Gate was later controlled by Soviets for almost 40 year. Note the portrait of Stalin in the center.
(Berlin at the end of WWII)

HERESY by S.J. Parris

Armada Portrait Queen Elizabeth I
(Queeen Elizabeth I)

For those of you who are familiar with C. J. Sansom’s novels that center around Matthew Shardlake during the reign of Henry VIII, Iain Pears’ AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST, and perhaps the novels of Hillary Mantel that focuses on Henry VIII’s vicar, Thomas Cromwell you might do well to consider S.J. Parris’ (the pseudonym of British journalist Stephanie Merritt) novels whose main character Giordano Bruno is a true historical figure set during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Parris’ exploration of Bruno’s beliefs, life’s work, and talents emerge in the first of seven novels entitled HERESY a story that has the inauspicious beginning of Bruno sitting in the privy at San Domenico Maggiore in Naples reading Erasmus’ COMMENTARIES.  When he is caught with this reading material, he is forced to throw it into the cesspool.  One must remember that in 1576 anyone in Catholic Naples who criticizes Catholicism is committing blasphemy and a crime that a Father Inquisitor might deem worthy of death.

The author employs Bruno’s life journey as an excellent vehicle to portray the religious schism that has overtaken Europe since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, and for Parris’ purpose its later impact on the reign of Elizabeth I who has rested her throne on the Act of Supremacy issued in 1558.  Bruno provides a superb foil against Catholic teachings as his life’s journey consisted of joining a monastery as a teenager and taking his vows at San Domenico Maggiore which he would come to reject after thirteen years.  He would wander Italy teaching and staying one step ahead of the father Inquisitor who had branded him a heretic.  He would escape to Geneva, where he was also branded as a heretic this time by the Calvinist power structure, Paris, and finally to England.  While in Paris, King Henri III would become his patron and would then travel on to London where he will be recruited by Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham to penetrate the Papist hotbed at the universities at Oxford. 

Parris’ dominate theme that permeates the novel is the schism between Catholics and Protestants as Bruno had traveled to England to write books which he believed would rock Europe to its foundations and search for a book that proved the universe was infinite going much further than Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the universe, a book written by the Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus.  Bruno believed that a universe without end existed, as did a universal soul which we are all part of.  Bruno subscribed to the view that “the divinity is in all of us and in the substance of the universe with the right knowledge, we can draw down all the powers of the cosmos.  When one understands this, we can become equal to God.”

(Giordano Bruno)

Parris’ plot unfolds as Bruno is accompanied to Oxford by Sir Philip Sidney, an aristocratic soldier-poet who he had met in Padua, and palatine Albert Laski, a conceited Polish poet.  Bruno’s purpose is to engage the Rector John Underhill of Lincoln College in a disputation.  Before the debate can take place, Bruno comes across the body of Roger Mercer one of the fellows who dined regularly at Underhill’s table.  It appears that the rest of the college is at pains to cover up the murder and Bruno’s charge is completely changed, and it appears that someone has created a grisly scenario in the name of Catholicism or is it Protestantism.  Bruno’s investigation allows Parris to accurately convey life in the English countryside during the period sprinkling in seedy taverns, mysterious bookshops, in addition to Oxford’s world renown libraries.

Francis Walsingham (c1532-1590) 'spymaster' to Elizabeth I. He is frequently cited as one of the earliest practitioners of modern intelligence both for espionage and internal security. His network penetrated the heart of Spanish military preparation, gath... : News Photo
(Sir Francis Walsingham)

Parris has employed a number of characters to carry out her story line.  Each character associated with Oxford and its colleges seem to reflect English arrogance and an anti-Oxford bias throughout the novel.   The most important individuals include Rector Underhill’s daughter, Sophia  an interesting individual who craves learning and resents the role of woman in English society.  Bruno’s main foil within the college is the Bursar Walter Slythurst with other individuals like James Coverdale who will now accede to the office of Deputy Rector with the passing of Mercer, William Bernard, a fellow who had been the librarian in 1569 when the library had been purged of heretical materials, Master Richard Godwyn, a mild mannered  librarian and fellow, Gabriel Norris, a student who used his long bow to kill Mercer’s assailant, Rowland Jenks, a bookseller who chopped off his own ears, Mr. Cobbett, an alcoholic porter involved in security, and Thomas Allen a student whose father, the former sub-Rector and teacher had been unceremoniously removed from the college resulting in his son’s loss of his scholarship.

Parris has written an atmospheric thriller dropping Bruno into the paranoid world of Oxford Papists which he must navigate to survive intellectually as he tries to solve the murder of Mercer, and unravel Oxford’s tangled loyalties, some of which border on treason.  As the novel unfolds a number of other Oxford fellows are murdered as Bruno becomes part detective as well as a humanistic philosopher who seems ahead of his time as he tries to offer further enlightenment to Europe.

On the whole the novel is well conceived, and once the reader acclimates themselves to Parris’ dialogue, they will become engrossed and will be exposed to a fascinating historical mystery.  The next installment of Parris’ Bruno series PROPHECY examines an astrological phenomenon that portends the death of Elizabeth as her throne is constantly threatened by her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

Queen Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes, c.1600. Wiki Commons.(Queen Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes, c.1600)

THE CLIFTON CHRONICLES, a seven book series by Jeffrey Archer (a synopsis)



Jeffrey Archer (Image: Jeffrey Archer/via Facebook)

(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.

Lord Archer claims to earn £10,000 an hour from his books, rising at 6am to write by hand
(Author, Jeffrey Archer)

THIS WAS A MAN by Jeffrey Archer

MPs are being asked to sign an Early Day Motion calling for further research
(English House of Parliament)

In the final installment of his CLIFTON CHRONICLES, THIS WAS A MAN Jeffrey Archer has to resolve what has happened to Karin Brandt, Giles Barrington’s spouse but also a double agent that the Russians have uncovered.  Her handler has led her into the woods and her plight along with Emma Clifton’s quest to learn how her husband Harry’s father died after World War I are the launching points that after five hundred pages brings Archer’s seven volume family saga to an end. 

Overall, the entire series was a worthwhile read, but the last book at times does not measure up to some of the earlier ones.  First, how many iterations of Lady Virginia Fenwick can one absorb as like a weed she continues to sprout her strategies to acquire wealth in exchange for nothing no matter how much poison she emits and has dumped on her.  The entire episode dealing with the widowed Duke of Hertford is a bit much as is her relationship with Desmond Mellor and attempts to control Mellor Travel.  Second, many of the scenarios are a bit contrived as is witnessed by the relationship between Paulo Reinaldo, a Brazilian playboy and pseudo art student and Jessica Clifton, Samantha and Sebastian Clifton’s daughter.  When the relationship explodes in newspapers, of course Aunt Grace rescues her from being expelled from the Slade School of Fine Arts.  Interestingly, Lady Virginia even plays a role in this situation!

Margaret Thatcher
(Former English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher)

Apart from scenes like these there are a number of plot lines that are absorbing and fit Archer’s creation of a cliff hanger at the conclusion of each section.  Emma’s relationship with the new Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and appointment as Undersecretary of Health in the House of Lords is interesting as is Archer’s description of English politics as the Conservative Tories replace Labour at 10 Downing Street.  The plight of Freddie, the supposed son of Lady Virginia, soon to be adopted by Giles and Kristin Barrington with the actions of Elly May Grant in the background trying to recoup the money that Lady Virginia coerced from her then fiancée Cyrus Grant is eye opening.  Further we return to the machinations of Desmond Mellor, Adrian Stone and Jim Knowles as they try to take over Farthings Kaufman Bank with a new villain, Conrad Sorkin introduced as they all vie to seize control of Mellor Travel.  Interestingly, a number of these characters wind up dead.  This convoluted web is important and here Archer deftly weaves his conspiratorial magic and even has time to follow the ups and downs of Giles Barrington’s political career.  There are numerous subplots that will maintain the reader’s attention, but again, Lady Virginia seems to be everywhere with hit men, corporate espionage, politicians like Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, and Dennis Healy ever present.

Emma Clifton remains a dominant character as is her growth as a businesswoman and a person who does not tolerate the picadilloes of others.  The evolution of Harry Clifton as a writer from his William Warwick series to one of substance is important as is the growth of Emma and Harry’s son Sebastian who moves seamlessly through the London banking scene.  Other characters who reappear include Griff Haskins, Giles’ campaign manager, Hakim Bishara, Sebastian’s corporate ally, in addition to the cast of low life’s mentioned earlier. Newer members of the cast include Kelly Mellor who is able to outwit everyone to control her father’s company, Conrad Sorkin, an international crook, and the Brazilian lover, Paulo Reinaldo who seduces Jessica away from her art career for a period of time.

In November, 1989, East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards. The destruction of the once-hated wall signaled the end of a divided Germany.
(The end of the Berlin Wall, 1989)

Perhaps the two highlights of the novel center around the debate in the House of Lords between brother and sister, Giles representing the Labour Party, and Emma, the Tories.  Second is the eulogy presented by Giles for his friend since childhood that encompasses the type of character Archer developed in Harry Clifton and the extraordinary life that he lived.  Archer has the ability to create mundane scenes, but also the most intense and absorbing. 

At a time of pandemic Archer’s final volume 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.  The book is full of sometimes totally unexpected twists but is written with authenticity, including a knowledge of cricket that should impress the reader.  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 is writing about what he knows.  If there is a dominant theme in the series, it is the strength of family with the Barrington’s and Clifton’s reflecting their moral values and, in most cases, the “good guys” come out on top.  When the pandemic ends and you are once again off to vacation or just the beach Archer’s work will enhance as you while away the hours dealing with numerous subterfuges and double-crosses, as he brings his series to a deeply emotional conclusion.

COMETH THE HOUR by Jeffrey Archer

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.
(Nobel Prize)

Like links in a chain, Jeffrey Archer continues his CLIFTON CHRONICLES leaving the reader wondering what the results of Lady Virginia Fenwick’s libel charge against Emma Clinton will be.  The jury is about to return a verdict when the judge issues permission for Major Alex Fisher’s suicide note to be read to the court.  In COMETH THE HOUR the letter is read to the court and its implications for all involved are immediate.  With this opening Archer, as per usual has piqued the reader’s interest and they will begin a five hundred page voyage that will take them through the labyrinth of the Barrington family dealings, including the Farthing Bank, Giles’ quest to rescue Karin Pengeller, his recent translator in East Berlin, Harry Clinton’s quest to obtain Anatoly Babakov’s freedom as he languishes in the Soviet Gulag, and the integration of corporate and state sponsored espionage to his multiple plot lines.

The sixth installment in the CLIFTON CHRONICLES is structured as the previous five with each section being directed by one of the major characters.  In COMETH THE HOUR, they include Harry and Emma Clinton, Giles Barrington, Lady Virginia Fenwick, Sebastian Clifton, Maise Clinton, Harry’s mother, and Turkish financier, Hakim Bishara.  Each character has their own agenda which of course brings about conflict with others. 

Performers posing as US soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie - 2018 photo
(Checkpoint Charlie, East and WestBerlin)

As I read the novel at first I was a little disappointed, but then Archer ramped up the plot.  There are a number of storylines that emerge.  First, Harry Clifton’s publisher, Aaron Guinzburg faces a takeover from a friend with unexpected consequences.  Second, Sebastian Clifton’s love life.  It seems he has given up on Samantha Sullivan and has turned to Priya Ghuman, but that relationship has an unfortunate end allowing Sebastian to focus on Samantha and their daughter Jessica, a rather precocious eleven year old once again.  Third, Giles Barrington has his own relationship issues.  He has fallen for Karin Pengelly an East German translator and he works diligently to arrange her escape from behind the iron curtain.  Once this is achieved, we learn the truth about Katrin Pengelly, a.k.a. Karin Brandt, a Russian “sparrow.”  Once the “love issues” are seemingly resolved, Archer becomes more serious as the fourth storyline emerges as Adrian Sloan and Desmond Mellor continue their attempts to take over Farthing Bank, this time trying to frame Hakim Bishara and other machinations.  Lastly, Lady Virginia Fenwick continues her attempts to obtain the wealth to live a “lifestyle she has grown accustomed to.”  She will fabricate a number of situations from pregnancy to other forms of fraud. 

Archer continues to create a number of interesting new characters.  Chief among them are Baroness Cynthia Forbes-Watson who works for MI6; Chief Inspector Barry Hammond, a former cop who is hired to save Bishara; Mai Ling, an ex-cop who as a masseur performs some interesting legal work, Ellie May, the wife of Cyrus Grant of Louisiana who works to undo Lady Virginia’s latest fraud, among others.  Historical figures continue to make cameo appearances.  The most consequential are future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; West German Foreign Minister Walter Scheel; and British Prime Ministers Ted Heath and James Callaghan.

Archer explores a number of cultural issues particularly as it relates to Hindu and Christian views of marriage very nicely.  However, at times Archer creates scenarios that are a bit farfetched, i.e., Lady Virginia’s attempt to fake her pregnancy and crash the wedding of an unsuspecting Louisiana millionaire.  There are a number of scenes that are quite entertaining particularly Harry Clifton’s interview on what is clearly the Today Show with Matt Lauer, though Archer has renamed the arrogant host as Matt Jacobs who unsuccessfully tries to trap Clifton and question the authenticity of Anatoly Babakov’s book UNCLE JOE.  It is clear that Archer at times has a deft touch with humor, but also at times he does create situations that are hard to fathom.


A photo of Gulag prisoners in Perm (undated).
(Soviet Gulag)

As in the other installments of the CLIFTON CHRONICLES English parliamentary politics and elections are ever present.  The career of Giles Barrington is portrayed, and the reader continues to be exposed to issues that confront parliament and the precarious nature of British politics as elections seem to come one after another without the requisite time frame between them.  In doing so Archer’s command of British history comes to the fore.

Archer continues his storytelling magic and character development.  However, if one is jumping into the CHRONICLES with the sixth book it might be confusing so I would suggest reading the series from the outset.  Archer has created a complex, involved and far-arching tale of complicated family tie and his trademark twists and turns will keep the reader totally involved in the story, though it seems it is less gripping than previous volumes.  Despite this slight drawback, Archer of course leaves the reader hanging as the book ends and makes one want to read the concluding volume, THIS WAS A MAN.

Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes by  Nils K Stahle - 1st Edition; 1st Printing - 1960 - from S. Howlett-West Books (member of ABAA & ILAB) (SKU: 29423)

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD by Jeffrey Archer

Moscow River and Kremlin
(The Kremlin, Moscow, Rusia)

“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.

(Photo: Jeffrey Archer/ Facebook)
(Jeffrey Archer)

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.

Stalin photo portrait poster
(Joseph Stalin)

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.

The Moscow Kremlin
(The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia)

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Jeffrey Archer

Cruise ship in caribbean sea : Stock Photo

From Jeffrey Archer’s perspective why change an approach that seems to work very nicely.  The approach I am speaking off is his storytelling ability that produces a wonderful family saga in the CLIFTON CHRONICLES with each volume ending in a cliff hanger that gently encourages the reader to pick up the next installment.  In the present instance BEST KEPT SECRET ended with an automobile accident that resulted in the death of one of the passengers, but we are left wondering if Harry and Emma’s son, Sebastian has survived.  In the next novel in the series BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, Archer’s plot revolves around the Barrington family and the machinations of Don Pedro Martinez, an international criminal who blames Harry Clifton for the death of his son, and Alex Fisher who attended boarding school with Giles Barrington and continues to seek revenge against Giles and his family dating back to their days in boarding school and the loss of a recent parliamentary election.

As is the case in the first iterations of the Clifton’s, Archer segments the story into chapters that focus on a given character and allows them to tell the story from their perspective.  Archer begins in the late 1950s with Harry and Emma taking the lead and moves on to Don Pedro Martinez, Cedric Hardcastle, a bluff Yorkshireman and dowdy old banker who plays a significant role, Major Alex Fisher, Giles Barrington, Sebastian and Jessica Clifton, and Don Pedro’s son Diego.  Each character has their own agenda and through a series of complex machinations Archer builds disparate segments of the story which come together in a rather dramatic fashion.

Bristol Harbour
(Bristol, England)

Aside from Hardcastle, there are a number of impactful characters like Robert Bingham, the fish paste king; Clive Bingham his son who wants to marry Jessica; Cabinet Secretary Alan Redmayne; Samantha Sullivan who has fallen in love with Sebastian; Susie Lampton, Alex Fisher’s wife who is somewhat of a double crosser; Karl Otto Lunsdorf, a former member of the Nazi SS and Martinez’s righthand man, among others.  Throughout the character development process, it seems that villains abound!  Historical characters and events make their appearance on a regular basis including a cameo by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and British Labour leader and future Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

The key addition that Archer makes is Cedric Hardcastle who is an example of how the author is able to shift the focus of the novel on a dime, a process that he repeats often.  Hardcastle is the Chairman of the Farthing Bank and he will join forces with the Barrington’s to try and thwart Don Pedro Martinez and his sons.  Martinez will never get over the death of his son despite the fact it is his own fault and seeks revenge against any and all Barrington’s.  As the story evolves Archer adds a new element corporate greed through stock manipulation and other machinations.  The British intelligence service is continually active in the novel as Sir Alan contemplates assassinating Martinez and is heavily involved in thwarting the Argentinian kingpin who likes to pose as an English gentleman.  Further Archer integrates the Irish Republican Army into the storyline as they with Martinez in toe to do as much harm to Britain as possible.  Another component that stands out is Jessica’s lineage as her adopted parents Harry and Emma have not made her aware of who her parents were which leads to complications.

Jeffrey Archer
(Author, Jeffrey Archer)

Archer has the knack of creating scenes where the expected result becomes the unexpected, i.e., the Barrington Shipping Company’s Board elections to replace Ross Buckingham by Emma when Susan Fisher surprises everyone.  Archer also continues to present an unremarkable prose, but one cannot take away from him his ability to surprise the reader over and over.  As per usual the novel ends in a cliffhanger with the reader calling for a fifth volume of the CLIFTON CHRONICLES which happens to be MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD.

Aerial View Of Cruise Ship Sailing On Sea : Stock Photo

BEST KEPT SECRET by Jeffrey Archer

GREAT BRITAIN ENGLAND 5 POUNDS 2002 P 391 b UNC

Even before a person begins to read Jeffrey Archer’s third installment of the CLIFTON CHRONICLES, BEST KEPT SECRET he already has the reader in the palm of his hands.  The previous novel, THE SINS OF THE FATHER ends with a voting deadlock in the House of Lords with the Lord Chancellor set to cast the deciding vote that will determine who will be the heir to the Barrington family title and fortune and whether Harry Clifton and Emma Barrington are half sister and brother.  Clifton wants no part of the Barrington wealth and just wants to make Emma his bride and would be overjoyed if the Lord Chancellor would bequeath the Barrington family title and all of its trappings to Emma’s brother Giles.

Once the final announcement is made Archer reverts to the approach, he employed in the first two novels in the series.  Archer allows the major characters to explore their aspirations, beliefs, and identity separately, at times crossing each other’s paths chronologically.  In the present scenario Archer relies upon Harry Clifton, Emma Barrington, Sebastian Clifton, Giles Barrington, and Alex Fisher to narrate the novel as each individual puts forth their own agenda. 

Docks, Bristol, England, UK, Europe Stock Photo

(Bristol, England dock)

Apart from the returning characters just mentioned there are a number of new ones that Archer introduces.  The most important of which are Lady Virginia Fenwick, a rather stuck up, snobby individual who has captured Giles’ emotions and will lead him down a path he will regret; and Don Pedro Martinez, a nefarious character engaged in counterfeiting among other illegal activities.   Others who appear are Jessica the daughter of Giles’ father and his mistress who is adopted by Emma, her half sister and Harry Clifton; Sebastian Clifton, the precocious and rambunctious son of Emma and Harry Clifton, Gwyneth Hughes, Giles’ girlfriend, Ross Buchanan, Giles’ financial advisor, Mrs. Tibbet, who ran a small London hotel; Bruno Martinez, Don Pedro’s son, among others.

Alex Fisher will emerge as a key player as Archer develops his plot.  Fisher has been a thorn in the side of Harry and Giles since they all attended the same boarding school.  At Tobruk when Giles earned military honors, Fisher felt he was not rewarded and grew extremely jealous.  Finally, he will hook up with Lady Virginia to try and wreak havoc with the Barrington family and businesses.

Archer does a wonderful job making the past prologue as in the case of Lady Virginia, “the quintessential bitch” with a hearing over Giles’ mother, Elizabeth’s will that is contested.  The arguments and issues involved encompass a host of issues and relationships that are very entertaining.  The Parliamentary election campaign between Giles and Fisher takes the reader inside the English elective process and reflects a number of strategies on the part of both candidates and their supporters.

City skyline of Buenos Aires with urban buildings
(Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Archer does introduce a number of narcissistic and immoral characters as the plot develops, but he does allow for a number of relationships to be reestablished once the truth of certain machinations emerges.  Though this is important, Archer is rather simplistic in his approach at times and this aspect could have been better developed.  In his fast paced narrative Archer introduces a new angle that did not appear in the first two novels, corporate intrigue as Lady Virginia and Alex Fisher try and take over Barrington Shipping that brings a certain amount of drama to the story.

Sebastian inadvertently emerges as a major character as he becomes involved in a scheme developed by Don Pedro Martinez to smuggle millions of counterfeit pounds into England.  Though this aspect of the novel creates a sense of drama it is an abrupt shift in the course of the novel that does not transition well from the rest of the story.  Further, the absence of Bruno in the process makes little sense and Archer seems to force a shift of the novel to Sebastian’s role.

Archer provides an almost pitch-perfect continuation of the Clifton family saga; his shrewd twists are addictive from the outset and as usual he ends the novel as a cliff hanger leaving the reader to wonder how things will work themselves out.  The story continues in the next installment, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

GREAT BRITAIN ENGLAND 5 POUNDS 2002 P 391 b UNC