I use long car rides to "read" books, and I recently found myself - after a drive wasn't quite long enough - seeking out longer trips just so I could find out what happened in the audio version of "Only Time Will Tell" by Jeffrey Archer. The audiobook, which was produced by Macmillan Audio (unabridged, $39.99), and the print version of the novel will be simultaneously released by St. Martin's Press (hardcover, 400 pp., $27.99) on Aug. 30.
(British cover at right, American/audio cover below)
Expertly read by British actor Roger Allam, with a few of the female-voiced chapters read by Emilia Fox, who has the audiobook of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" to her credit, the 12-hour, 10-disc recording follows, in epic fashion, the life of Harry Clifton from conception to age 20. It's the first part of Archer's five-part series featuring Harry, which he calls The Clifton Chronicles. The family saga aims to follow Harry through age 100, it seems.
"Only Time Will Tell" spans from 1920 to the outbreak of World War II in 1940: the first 20 years of Harry Clifton's life.
Watch the book trailer here.
On his website, Archer says he is hard at work on The Clifton Chronicles Volume 2, "Tempered By War," which follows Harry Clifton from 1940 to 1960. Check out Archer's website here.
Young Harry is raised in a lower-class Bristol household, which he and his mother share with his Uncle Stan and his aging maternal grandparents. He shares a bedroom with the brutish Uncle Stan, the breadwinner of the family, who works in a local shipyard. The family barely ekes out an existence, and food is a luxury that doesn't always materialize on the table.
Harry's father, the late Arthur Clifton, disappeared under mysterious circumstances from the Bristol shipyard just after Harry's birth. But, to soften the blow or perhaps to circumvent what really happened to Arthur, Harry's mother, Maisie, tells him his father was killed in World War I. It doesn't take Harry long to do the math and figure out that isn't the whole truth.
When Stan is jailed for theft, the resourceful Maisie is forced to work as a waitress at a time when women earning wages was not the norm and definitely wasn't acceptable. But Maisie has a talent for getting customers to return, and builds up her own clientele and her reputation as a hard worker.
Meanwhile, Harry starts elementary school, and, finding it to be "boring," decides to spend his time sloughing about the docks. He befriends a man who lives in an old railcar on the shipyard property. That man, Jack Tar, helps to convince the obviously bright and curious Harry that learning is a worthwhile endeavor. So Harry begins attending school in a more regular fashion, and when he turns up at the docks, Jack Tar helps to school him on history, grammar and other subjects.
While Harry turns out to be not the best cricket player - a blow to his young ego - he demonstrates exceptional choral talents at church. With the help of some well-meaning teachers and benefactors, and his mum, Harry wins himself a choral scholarship to a private school, where he meets the friends who will shape his young life.
Harry is lifted up by numerous unsung heroes in his life, just as other, darker forces try to cast him down. When his voice breaks, he loses his choral scholarship and just misses the high marks needed for a full academic ride to continue his private schooling. His mother, Maisie, rises to the challenge, finding better positions and nearly making a success of running her own business, only to have misfortune turn that dream to ashes.
I'll stop there, when Harry's a young teen. I don't want to give away the twists and turns of this story - and there are many that will keep you on the edge of your (car)seat. It's a tale told with humor and finely voiced by British actor Roger Allam, who can do myriad rich and believable accents with ease. You find yourself rooting for young Harry throughout the story.
True to form, Archer ends this first installment of the Clifton Chronicles on a cliffhanger. I can easily see the story translating to a televised miniseries somewhere down the line: "Tune in next week, to see how Harry managed to get himself out of this predicament." And you will.
I look forward to meeting 20-year-old Harry in the next novel and following him to the ripe old age of 40.
About the author:
Jeffrey Archer was born in London, and educated at Oxford. He was elected to the Greater London Council, and, at age 29, he became Member of Parliament. After five years in the Commons and a promising political career ahead of him, he resigned from the House of Commons after suffering some financial problems surrounding a bad investment.
At age 34, Archer, pictured below, wrote his first novel, "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less," which sold to 17 countries within a year, was made into a successful radio serial, and was later televised in 1990 by the BBC.
He went on to write numerous novels and short story collections, including "A Prisoner of Birth," "And Thereby Hangs a Tale," and "Kane and Abel." "Paths of Glory," his most recent novel, was a New York Times bestseller.
Archer has been married for 40 years to Dr. Mary Archer, chairman of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They have two sons, William and James. They divide their time between homes in London and Cambridge.
**Interestingly, if you search for Archer in Wikipedia, this is what turns up:
Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940) is an English author, convicted criminal, and former politician.
Now, who doesn't want to read a novel by THAT guy?