QUICK REVIEW: Best Kept Secret

26 March 2013 - 04:12 By Julia Beffon

'Best Kept Secret' by Jeffrey Archer (Pan Macmillan, R292)

A Tory politician,ex-convict and lecherous old goat, according to a colleague who met him recently.

Yes, Jeffrey Archer is all those things and, if there were no more, it would be easy to dismiss him as a prat.

But darned if he isn't also one of the finest storytellers around.

Best Kept Secret is the third of the planned five partClifton Chronicles, which is due to cover about 100 years of the Clifton family from just after World War 1 to the present day.

It was originally meant to be told in 20-year segments, but at the start of book three we're only in 1945, taking up with the resolution of the court case where Sins of the Father - the second book - left us all on a knife-edge.

To detail exactly what happens might spoil the plot for those who would like to read the series from the beginning, but Harry Clifton, like Archer, bounces back from imprisonment, financial problems and public disapproval.

Archer has admitted that most of his main characters are loosely based on himself, and there is much in Clifton's life arc that mirrors the author's, but the Clifton Chronicles are not so much an expiation as a reinvention.

Archer tried something similar in his prison diaries, but he needs the medium of fiction to allow his great storytelling skill to flourish. Sticking to the facts is not his forte, I suppose, which is why he went to jail.

With his political profile and divisive personality, it's unlikely that Archer will find appreciation for his gifts any time soon, as Stephen King has, but both - along with JK Rowling more recently - have brought pleasure to more people than most of the Nobel laureates and Booker winners combined.

I look forward to the next two volumes with the relish of a Victorian waiting for the next chapter of a Dickens novel.