Jeffrey Archer exhibits his finest storytelling abilities in his latest book, the first installment in his new series, The Clifton Chronicles. The story begins in 1920 in Bristol, England, and appears to read as a coming-of-age novel. Eventually, though, it unfolds into a brilliant portrayal of lies, betrayal, hidden motives and intricate plotting. ONLY TIME WILL TELL grabs the reader’s intense interest in the first chapter, with Harry Clifton as a young boy loitering around the shipping docks. Harry’s uncle works there, as did his deceased father.
"Deceit, betrayal and uncompromising hatred converge on Harry and lead him to action and consequence that set the scene for the next book in The Clifton Chronicles. Fascinated by the elaborate plotting of ONLY TIME WILL TELL, I am eager to open the pages of Archer’s continuing story."
The boy is fascinated by the activity on the docks and thinks little of his truancy from Merrywood Elementary School. His saving grace from expulsion is his angelic singing voice. Much more interested in dock activity than school or church, Harry reluctantly submits to a vocal test and joins the Holy Nativity choir. Unable to read or write, he finds the choir a challenge. His teacher, Mr. Holcombe, becomes his mentor, giving him a crash course in the alphabet. Soon, he advances enough to pass the difficult three-part written test and joins the choir.
Mr. Holcombe fades into the background when Harry discovers a new mentor, Old Jack Tar, who lives in the railway carriage at the dockyard. Without explanation, Uncle Stan warns the boy to avoid the old man at all costs. Old Jack catches Harry spying on him outside a window and invites him in, marking the beginning of a complicated and lengthy friendship. Old Jack holds the key to the mystery surrounding Harry’s father’s death (or disappearance) years before at the docks. But Harry cannot budge him from silence about the event. The cloud above Harry’s life story threatens a rainstorm of truth for Harry.
Nonetheless, Harry learns scholastic and historical facts from Old Jack that allow him to expand his knowledge and enter St. Bede’s, a posh aristocratic school, on a vocal music scholarship. Meanwhile, his widowed mother, Maisie, leaves her job as a waitress in a tea shop and goes to work at the Royal Hotel, where she is paid higher wages and has more free time. She can now afford the uniforms and related expenses at St. Bede’s. Early chapters deal with Harry’s growth and path into the elite boarding school, forever tagged as socially beneath his new aristocratic peers.
Prior to his first day there, Harry talks about his misgivings with Old Jack. He is desperate to open the closed case about his father. He had been told that his father was killed in the Great War, but the date of his own birth did not jive with that supposed fact. Old Jack gives him two names, men who can unravel the mystery: Mr. Haskins, the chief ganger, and Mr. Hugo Barrington, son of Sir Walter Barrington.
This first installment in a planned five-book series winds throughout Harry Clifton’s strained childhood, his continual search for answers concerning his father’s death, and his journey into manhood, accepted as equal by most but shunned by others. We follow his education, the ups and downs of his mother’s work situation, and his bloom socially and his growth physically. Although the mundane daily experiences may seem unnecessary, Archer’s words all share a purpose. By the time the final pages reveal answers for Harry, each character has taken on a life of his or her own. Harry’s answers lead to more questions, putting him in dangerous situations.
Deceit, betrayal and uncompromising hatred converge on Harry and lead him to action and consequence that set the scene for the next book in The Clifton Chronicles. Fascinated by the elaborate plotting of ONLY TIME WILL TELL, I am eager to open the pages of Archer’s continuing story.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on December 8, 2011