Book review: Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

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Carefully planned, imaginatively assembled and built to last through many more episodes.

Jeffrey Archer’s compelling and superbly creative blockbuster is billed as the first of a new series entitled the Clifton Chronicles and sees the master craftsman on top form.

Only Time Will Tell provides what Archer does best - a page-turning story with a cast list that ranges from the stock-in-trade schoolboy with a prodigious gift to a collection of memorable heroes and villains who will either love him or loathe him.

Set in the volatile period between the wars, the tale of young Harry Clifton takes us on a journey through the mighty dockyards of Bristol to the city’s impoverished back streets and on to the grand home of a millionaire shipping magnate.

Along the way, there are secrets to be revealed, mysteries to be solved, growing pains to share, dastardly deeds to witness and life-changing decisions to ponder.

Harry Clifton’s story begins in 1920 with the chilling words: ‘I was told that my father was killed in the war.’

Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who worked at Bristol docks, or the first born and illegitimate son of Hugo Barrington, a scion of West Country society whose family owns a shipping line?

It will take 21 tumultuous years for Harry to discover the truth about how his father died and if, in fact, Arthur Clifton really was his father.

In the meantime, his mother Maisie is struggling to bring him up with no husband and a waitressing job that only just keeps body and soul together.

Harry is fascinated by the docks where his Uncle Stan works and frequently gets caned for playing truant from school.

He is an innately intelligent boy but his greatest gift is an outstanding treble voice which does not go unnoticed by teachers and church officials and helps him to win a choral scholarship to a local preparatory school.

There he meets and befriends two boys who will help to carve out his future. One of them is Giles Barrington, son of Hugo, whose friendship with Harry will frequently be tested to the limit.

Their lives converge both at school and at home over the coming years but the Second World War brings changes for all, not least Harry who must decide whether to take up his place at Oxford University or join the fight against Hitler’s Germany.

Only Time Will tell is a cracking good read...a multiple narrative allows Harry’s story to unfold on a variety of levels giving impetus to the plot as well as extra depth and insight into the characters.

With cliff-hangers at every juncture and Harry’s life barely begun, it’s to be hoped that the next chapter is already well under way.

(Macmillan, hardback, £18.99)