Best Kept Secret
by Jeffrey Archer
(St. Martin's Press, $27.95) ISBN 978-1-250-00098-9
****
The prologue revisits the closing moment of Volume 2, The Sins of the Father, of The Clifton Chronicles. The time is 1945, and the Lord Chancellor must break the tie vote in the House in Parliament deciding between Giles Barrington and Harry Clifton as to who should succeed Sir Hugo Barrington as his rightful heir. The equities seemed evenly balanced; however, the Lord Chancellor chooses Giles Barrington as the rightful successor.

The fallout from this permits Harry Clifton (who did not want to be the successor) to marry the love of his life, Emma Barrington, legitimizing their son Sebastian. And for awhile the three Barrington siblings, Giles, Grace and Emma live happily as a close knit family. Because of the possibility that Harry could actually be Emma's half brother, they decide not to have any more natural children. Emma was troubled by the disappearance of the infant child found in the office of Sir Hugo when he died. She employs a detective to trace the infant and ultimately she and Harry adopt the child known as Jessica.

After this, the book turns from being almost exclusively event driven to that of developing characters driving the plot in Jeffrey Archer's inimitable style. A new force emerges in Lady Virginia Fenwick, daughter of the Earl of Fenwick and clearly aspiring to snare Giles Barrington. As time slips by, Elizabeth, the mother of Giles, Emma and Grace, dies quickly after a diagnosis of cancer, but not before she changes her will.

The will is challenged and the actions drive the family apart until an election in the House of Commons. As Giles is a sitting member there, his seat is in contest. A nemesis from a prior book, Major Fisher, reappears with some unlikely supporters with the stated agenda of destroying Giles. His interest also extends to the board room of Barrington Shipping.

This novel embraces about six years in the lives of these characters as one sub plot follows another, introducing more characters and expanding the story. The story ends abruptly setting the stage for Book 4 with an automobile accident in which the reader is told only one of the two occupants survives.

It is recommended that a new reader start at Volume I. Primary characters were well and extensively developed in the two prior novels and without that background much would be lost to the reader. There are multiple plot lines, some of which carry over from book to book which would also require continuity to appreciate fully.

That said, Archer is a crafter of multiple stories within one master plot, revealed carefully and slowly by his characters. Dialog is clever and often humorous, and care is taken to enrich the reader by the permeation of a real sense of place.

--Thea Davis


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