By Jeffrey Archer. #3 in The Clifton Chronicles. Grade: B+
I am a big fan of Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, and after the cliff hanger of The Sins of The Father (Clifton Chronicles #2), I was eagerly looking forward to this one. Whatever hang-ups you may have against the writer, you can’t deny he spins a darned good yarn, and proves it again with Best Kept Secret.
New York Times bestseller Jeffrey Archer continues his beloved Clifton Chronicle series as Harry and Emma finally begin building a happy life—but a dangerous family enemy is about to resurface…
1945. The vote in the House of Lords as to who should inherit the Barrington family fortune has ended in a tie. The Lord Chancellor’s deciding vote will cast a long shadow on the lives of Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington.
Harry returns to America to promote his latest novel, while his beloved Emma goes in search of the little girl who was found abandoned in her father’s office on the night he was killed.
When the General Election is called, Giles Barrington has to defend his seat in the House of Commons and is horrified to discover who the Conservatives select to stand against him. But it is Sebastian Clifton, Harry and Emma’s son, who ultimately influences his uncle’s fate.
In 1957, Sebastian wins a scholarship to Cambridge, and a new generation of the Clifton family march onto the page. After Sebastian is expelled from school, he unwittingly becomes caught up in an international art fraud involving a Rodin statue that is worth far more than the sum it raises at auction. Does he become a millionaire? Does he go to Cambridge? Is his life in danger?
Best Kept Secret will answer all these questions, but once again, pose so many more.
In his trademark style, Archer doesn’t beat around the bush and opens immediately at the moment Sins of The Father ended. The Barrington fortune, and all that it entails, is given to Giles Barrington, heir apparent – much to the relief of Harry and Emma. Sebastian gets legitimacy, and Harry and Emma also adopt a daughter – the infant found next to her dead father.
Harry goes on to become a bestselling novelist, and his adventures in the U.S. as he tries to promote his books kept me highly entertained. Meanwhile, back in London, Giles gets engaged to a scheming bitch (just quoting Emma), causing a temporary rift between the family. Fortunately, this disastrous relationship soon comes to an end when Elizabeth Barrington dies and leaves Giles out of her will. Alex Fisher – Harry’s old nemesis from school – makes a reappearance and is cast in the role of the villain. Giles’ ex-wife joins hands with him and wreaks much havoc in the Barrington shipping line and Giles’ political career.
Things move briskly, and all finally seems to be coming together for the family when the focus shifts on the brilliant but uncontrollable Sebastian. He suffers from the curse of a gifted child: insouciance and nonchalance when it comes to resisting the temptations that his somewhat unsavory friends provide.
It all comes to a head when Sebastian unwittingly finds himself in the middle of an international art smuggling. Harry comes to his rescue, but leaves some loose ends untied, proving fatal for Sebastian. The book again ends at a cliffhanger, stopping just a shade behind highly abrupt.
There is little that would make Best Kept Secret stand out from Archer’s impressive list of titles. That this is a third book in an ambitious trilogy certainly helps, but with the books releasing after a year’s gap, and too many characters and episodes to keep track of, it detracts the reader from enjoying it fully. A lot of references are made to the past which do not immediately jump to the forefront, even for a reader who read all three books as sincerely as I did.
There is also very little to connect all three books. All of them come up with their share of problems and villains and resolutions (the Clifton-Barrington family is very unlucky indeed!) and this gets repetitive after a while. It’s not a novel that anyone would have been able to pull off. It must have been difficult to subtly twist the story as expertly as Archer has done, with just the right amount of historical detailing mixed with enough facts to lend it credibility.
Archer keeps you at the edge while subtly setting up the framework for the next one. March 2014, I wish you weren’t this far away.