All You Need to Know about The Clifton Chronicles

Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer. MJ Kim / Getty Images

The series The Clifton Chronicles kicked off with a lot of global fanfare in 2011. The seventh and final book hit shelves in 2016.

  1. Only Time Will Tell (2011)
  2. The Sins of the Father (2012)
  3. Best Kept Secret (2013)
  4. Be Careful What You Wish For (2014)
  5. Mightier Than the Sword (2015)
  6. Cometh the Hour (2016)
  7. This Was a Man (2016)

The series tells the life story of Harry Clifton, born poor in Bristol, England in 1920 with a cloud over his true parentage. Harry’s singing talent open up opportunities for him, and his mother manages to send him off to a prestigious school, inadvertently beginning an epic life story of danger and adventure during wartime, assumed identities, love affairs, prison stretches, and the revelation of Harry’s true parentage. In short, this series studies a character’s entire life, from beginning to end—with that character living the sort of life that most people either only dream of having or are quite content ​not to have.

The Author

Jeffrey Archer has been a bestselling author for more than forty years, and said that he began writing the Clifton Chronicles when he turned 70 as a sort of challenge to himself, to see if he still had the energy and imagination for such an epic story (all signs point to yes). Archer’s own life reads like a novel: After making a small fortune with a fundraising and public relations company, he was a member of British Parliament for several years, only to become embroiled in a financial scandal that ended his political career and left him bankrupt. In the sort of twist that usually only works in movies, he decided to write a novel as a way of generating some income, and his first novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was a big enough hit to launch Archer on a second career in writing.

The Verdict

Will you love the Clifton Chronicles? Very likely. Centered on the fun, personable character of Harry, the books are jam-packed with soapy action without ever becoming overstuffed or difficult to follow. Archer brings a particularly British charm to his writing, especially in the dialog—fans of Downton Abbey will recognize the rhythms and beats of different regional accents and peculiar Britishisms.

As with any lengthy work that focuses on a single character, as the books progress Harry’s incredible life does begin to stretch that suspension of disbelief; most real-life people would be lucky (or unlucky) to experience a third of what Harry goes through. But the pacing is so brisk the reader rarely has a moment to think about the sheer exhaustion Harry must feel by the time we get to, say, book four. Of course, that’s part of the fun of a series like this: The incredible series of events that makes up Harry’s life also justifies the incredible good fortune he (eventually) experiences; Archer follows the classic pattern of having Harry suffer a whole lot in the early going only to find fortune, fame, and true love as the story goes on—which doesn’t mean Harry’s life become calm and the books become dull, it just shifts the drama.

History's Effect

Finally, Archer’s decision to have Harry born in 1920 is brilliant, as the 20th century was an incredibly varied time. Harry experiences not only the dramatic technological and economic changes that occurred during that century, but has no shortage of iconic historic moments to be witness to or drawn up into. You might think of the overused term ‛greatest generation’ when contemplating Harry, who would be 96 years old today if he were real. That means these books serve as thumbnail trips through history as well, allowing the books to shift through different sub-genres, from romance to war adventure to spy thriller to corporate soap opera, sometimes within one book. In other words, as with the weather in some areas of the world, if you’re not exactly loving the Clifton sequence you’re reading just be patient for a few pages and you’ll find yourself in a whole new genre.