Saturday, 17 May 2014

Books What (Sic) I Read In 2014: 1 'Best Kept Secret'

Two or three years ago my brother-in-law lent me a book to read by Jeffrey Archer, which he'd enjoyed and suggested I might too. I did! 'Only Time Will Tell' is the first of the 'Clifton Chronicles' and I couldn't put it down. I know that Archer comes in for a lot of sniffy criticism for his pulp fiction and his uncomplicated style - but he does pen a good yarn.
The first book covered the first couple of decades of the lives of Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington. From very different families, one from the dockyard, the other from the family of the owners of the same dockyard, the boys' lives come together at a prep school in Bristol, where Harry is a choral scholar, and Giles is a paying pupil. I'll say no more of the first offering, save that it's set in Bristol, where I grew up, and includes their secondary education at my school, Bristol Grammar: the novel ends with Harry unable to marry Giles' sister and running away to sea at the outbreak of the Second World War, swapping identities with an American sailor and getting arrested for murder in New York. I'll say no more - just read it and see!
The second novel 'The Sins Of The Father', in this reviewer's opinion is a lot weaker than the first. I have to say that if this were the first of the series that I'd read, I wouldn't have gone on to read the story that is the subject of this review. I couldn't really tell you what happens, except that everyone gets a bit older; an illegitimate child is born; there's a significant War in Europe; paternity is questioned; Giles' dad dies, his true character having been displayed; and Harry discovers a talent as a writer.
Which brings me on the novel in question. First published in 2013, 'Best Kept Secret' follows the Clifton and Barrington families from 1945 to 1957. Harry spent the War in an American jail, and then came home to marry Giles' sister Emma, whilst Giles had been a hero in North Africa. This installment of the saga concerns Giles' political career as a Labour politician in Bristol; Harry's burgeoning career as a Crime Novelist; Emma's development as a budding industrialist, eager to take on Grandfather's shipping line; and her son Sebastian's dalliance with South American gangsters. The novel has the pace of the first and develops the main characters' individual and entwined storylines further into the 20th Century. I couldn't put this one down - easy reading with a good plot-so-far summary to open, and a great cliffhanger on a British trunk road on which to end.
There's business espionage and political shenanigans; there's Princess Margaret making a cameo appearance in Buenos Aries; and there's a significant cast of Rodin's 'The Thinker' thrown in for good measure. I enjoy an easy read which one can visualize as a movie, and this novel fits that description well. It's a page-turner which develops the characters well, though the style is more box-office soap opera than cinematic classic - there's nothing in there to take note of personally, nothing life-changing or intellectually challenging for the reader - but that's not what Archer is about - this is a good story which keeps the reader wanting to know what happens next.
My father's head master at Bristol Grammar, John Garrett, having made an appearance in this novel, I'm interested to see if mine, John MacKay, makes it into the next. I also want to know the outcome of the events of the journey to Cambridge in the MG, so I'm hooked, and will definitely be buying the next installment when it comes along in paperback later this year.

By Andrew Carter

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Books What (Sic) I Read In 2014: 1 'Best Kept Secret'


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