This Was a Man (Clifton Chronicles #7), by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Archer completes his heptalogy in fine form, coming full circle with the Cliftons and Barringtons, while peppering the narrative with other key characters and their plights from 1978-92. As the novel opens, the reader is left to wonder what has become of Karin Barrington, revealed to be working with the East German Government and in the clutches of her step-father and handler. Shots ring out and a body falls, but it turns out that MI6 has Karin protected and the ultimate traitor lies bleeding to death. While Karin’s revelation is key to opening the novel, her importance fades as husband, Lord Giles Barrington, forges ahead in the House of Lords. Crippled by a Labour loss in the General Election and subsequent backing of the wrong candidate to take over the Party, Giles is shuffled to the back benches to live out his meagre political life. However, while they are unable to wrest the reins of power out of Thatcher’s Conservatives, failure at the top breathes new life into Giles and offers an opportunity to serve in the Shadow Cabinet, with a new opponent in his crosshairs. Meanwhile, Emma Clifton has been enjoying her time as Chairman of Barrington Shipping, but when there is a takeover offer, the money cannot be ignored and she sells the family business to a competitor, which leaves her open to rise amongst the ranks of a hospital board, acting as Chairman of the largest NHS hospital in the country. Emma immerses herself in the intricacies of the hospital while remaining on the radar of PM Margaret Thatcher. Seeing potential in her friend, Thatcher elevates Emma into the Lords as well, opposite her brother, who is only too happy to show her the ropes before he vows to hang her with one of the political variety. Emma is given Undersecretary of State for Health and the entire NHS program rests firmly at her feet. While she seeks to steer a major piece of legislation through the Lords for the Government, Giles will stop at nothing to see Labour triumph as he bandies the legislation around and bullies the sister he knows all too well, leading to a face-off of epic political proportions. Harry Clifton, patriarch of the family, remains pleased resting his his wife’s shadow, waging his own form of war with the characters in his latest novel. Deciding to fulfill a lifetime promise to his mother, Harry embarks on writing his magnum opus while coming to terms with the passing years around him. The idea that germinates is one that he uses to weather personal storms in his own life, things he wishes not to reveal to the rest of the family. Sebastian, son to Emma and Harry, continues his meteoric rise in the banking industry, though he is called on to make a play for a major company, filled with nemeses from his past, in order to protect the virtue of a young woman who is gifted shares in a Last Will and Testament. Sebastian straddles time on both sides of the Atlantic in order to see truth and virtue restored, while keeping Lady Virginia Fenwick from sullying the reputations of anyone else, but more on her in a moment. Sebastian’s precocious daughter, Jessica, has an eye for art and finds nothing that can stand in her way. Nothing, that is, until a Brazilian man turns the future of this nineteen year-old into something that comes crashing down in short order. Jessica’s life goes to tatters and teeters on the precipice, all she has worked towards lost after a night of bingeing and recklessness. There is a glimmer of hope, which comes in the least likely of relatives. While Jessica tries to right herself, Lady Virginia Fenwick continues to plot in order to elude the taxman and his hefty fines for past legal and financial transgressions. As Lady Virginia barely survives the scandal of her faux pregnancy at the hands of a rich American, she sinks her teeth into the 13th Duke of Hertford. Lady Virginia weasels her way closer to fortune, though the Duke’s family can smell a rat, especially when Lady Virginia makes a quick play after a rushed codicil to the Duke’s will. With her long track record of deception and few friends to call her own, Lady Virginia might have to pull out all the stops to keep herself from flirting with financial ruin and becoming destitute. As Archer meanders through his various characters and uses history as a backdrop, he takes the narrative down some truly interesting avenues, which allows him to remind the reader of how far things have come in the last seventy odd years, including putting to rest the lingering question of Harry’s parentage. Offering his three central characters one last encore at centre stage, Archer lays the groundwork to end the Clifton Chronicles, ensuring that there is not a dry eye left in the house… or wherever the reader chooses to devour this truly amazing piece of writing. A powerful novel to end a stellar series, it will be one that readers will want to revisit repeatedly and recommend at every opportunity.

Jeffrey Archer is more than a man! He is surely one of the twentieth century’s greatest storytellers with his vast array of plots and countless characters that breathe life into his ideas. The Clifton Chronicles became an epic seven-novel series that needed every page to deliver the impact that it had to offer. Rich characters who survived against a backdrop both of history and personal growth, strong narratives that meandered across continents, and dialogue that kept the story moving at a clip that was both comprehensive and realistic. Archer told his epic story that took characters seven decades to present and offered lingering after-effects in which the reader sought just a few more chapters of delightful storytelling. While potentially hinting at his next writing assignment, Archer drew parallels between Harry Clifton and himself at times, teasing the reader, and left the door open for all to wonder. The smooth writing style and attention to detail throughout the series attracted scores of new fans in addition to those who have admired Lord Archer for decades. While some may bemoan that things became too predictable in this final novel, lacking the essential thrill to get them out of bed and grabbing for their copy, these are the same people who spend all their time looking for errant acorns in the wilderness as the vast majority enjoy the majesty of the forest. To have had the chance to read such a wonderful series and feel for all of the characters within, I was not surprised when I found myself tearing up at points, especially towards the end. This was a man, a family, a series, and an epic journey. Do consider embarking on the adventure from beginning to end and lose yourself in Lord Jeffrey Archer, as you raise a pen in literary victory.

Kudos, Lord Archer for never letting your readers down. While there will be naysayers, it is likely an inherent need to play the role of Lady Virginia that fuels their bitterness.

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