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Wednesday, March 18, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the fifth book in the Clifton Chronicles series, and - like the others - I enjoyed reading it. But up front, I'll say this: If you don't like abrupt cliffhangers that won't be resolved until the next book is published - in this case, I'd expect about a year from now - you won't be happy with this one. I've read that there will be two more to close out the series, and most certainly, I'll be among the readers (despite knowing full well by the time the next one is released I'll have forgotten everything in this one). And to those interested in the series who haven't read any of the others, I add this: Start at the beginning. This one, in particular, doesn't seem to me to do quite as well on its own.

Like the others, it follows the family - with emphasis on writer Harry Clifton and his wife Emma, chairwoman of Barrington Shipping, their son, Sebastian, and Emma's brother Sir Giles Barrington - from around 1964 to 1970. Home-based in London, they're all seasoned travelers, and the shipping line regularly travels to the United States. Sebastian, an up-and-coming bank official, proposes marriage to the beautiful Samantha, who is American - thus setting the stage for a very long-distance romance. Sections are divided up by character and time period; and throughout the whole thing, it's interesting to to see how everything and everyone is connected, whether by blood, business or enemies (or any combination of the three).

The book begins as Harry and Emma are traveling on the maiden voyage of the company's Buckingham - when it appears the ship is about to be blown to smithereens by a huge bomb (one no doubt intended to kill Harry and Emma as well). Since this happens at the start of the book, I don't think it's a spoiler to say the pair survive the attack.

Then, Harry visits his New York publisher to get good news and learns that another author, Anatoly Babakov, has been imprisoned by the Russian government, charged with writing a killer tell-all about his work with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. That's a travesty, Harry decides, and launches a campaign to demand his release and publication of the book that will require at least one visit to Russia that puts his own life at risk. Not content to be a sit-at-home wife, while Harry is busy fighting the Communist regime, Emma is kept busy fending off a libel lawsuit filed by long-time foe Lady Virginia Fenwick, Sir Giles's ex-wife.

Sebastian, meantime, runs headstrong into trouble with his proposal to the lovely Samantha. The plot thickens, as it were, when Sebastian's intended climb to the top of Farthing's Bank is thwarted when a rival acquires power that may allow him to accomplish his goal of bringing the talented Sebastian to his knees. While all this is going on, Sir Giles - a minister of the Crown who's looking to move up the governmental ladder himself - heads out on an official trip to Berlin (at this time, the Berlin Wall is standing) that doesn't end particularly well. 

Because of the time period, the author gets away quite nicely with playing the name-dropping game; and because I was a relatively young adult at the time, they're familiar to me as well (Nikita Khrushchev, Harold Wilson and Barry Goldwater come to mind). As for style, the books in this series always remind me of the Stone Barrington series by Stuart Woods (and is it just me who wonders if it is by coincidence that the Barrington name shows up in both authors' books)? In any event, both authors are British, so here - as in Woods' series - everything is matter-of-fact and the characters just don't get very excited no matter what happens. Someone got bumped off? Too bad, old chap, but let's have a spot of tea and get on with it.

Mightier Than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer (St. Martin's Press, February 2015); 415 pp.

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