Having set himself the ambitious task of writing The Clifton Chronicles last year, Jeffrey Archer has now come out with The Sins of the Father, the second book in the five-part saga. The full series will take the protagonist Harry Clifton from his birth in 1920 to his death in 2020.
An old hand at these things, Archer has predictably ensured that you don't really need to read the first instalment, Only Time Will Tell, to follow the second, although the novel continues from where the first one left off in suspense.
Heartbroken to find that perhaps he would never be able to marry the love of his life, Emma Barrington, as a result of possibly being the illegitimate son of Emma's villainous father, Hugo Barrington, Harry joins the merchant navy and heads to the United States. As the Second World War rages on, a German U-boat attacks his ship, leading to the deaths of many. And to escape his painful past, Harry takes on the identity of Tom Broadshaw, who has been killed on board and buried at sea.
As with the earlier instalment, a little suspension of incredulity is required when reading Archer's novel. Many events are barely plausible, and the different pieces of the puzzle fit in a bit too conveniently at times; like a Bollywood melodrama, where nothing is allowed to spoil a good story. And there is no shortage of coincidences.
The opening scene has Harry — or rather Tom Broadshaw — being arrested on arrival in New York on charges of having killed his brother and desertion from the US Navy. Having no way of proving his real identity, Harry allows a crooked lawyer, Sefton Jelks, to talk him into accepting a guilty plea for desertion, assuring him of a lenient sentence of a few months. But that turns out to be six years in jail.
Inside jail, as on the outside, our hero wins hearts and minds. He soon gets a job in the library and begins writing his memoirs. Which are slyly stolen by Max Lloyd, a fellow inmate (and former literary agent) who, upon leaving jail, publishes them as his own, unbeknownst to Harry. Of course, it becomes a New York Times bestseller.
Meanwhile back in England, Emma, being the ideal lover, refuses to believe that Harry is dead and resolves to prove it. She leaves her — and Harry's — newborn son with her mother, and heads for New York. The scenes in New York involving Emma are some of the most enjoyable in the book, especially her confrontations with Sefton and Max, who just happens to be legally represented by the same crooked attorney. But while Emma is looking for him in the US, circumstances have ensured that Harry is allowed to complete his sentence as a US armyman, fighting behind enemy lines in Europe.
Back in England, Harry's best friend and Emma's brother, Giles, has joined the army and becomes a war hero. (I was half expecting Harry and Giles to meet on the battlefield, but thankfully that does not happen).
Hugo Barrington has taken over the reigns of Barrington Shipping Line after the death of Giles's illustrious grandfather, and manages to run the company to the ground. But he meets the end one feels he deserves.
Archer handles the characters really well, given that the story is told from the point of view of five different people, each with their own perspectives.
The writing is easy on the eye and he sure knows how to tell a good tale. And, as with Only Time Will Tell, the last sentence will make you wait in anticipation for the next instalment.
The Sins of the FatherBy Jeffrey Archer,Macmillan, 400 pages, £18.99