Only Time Will Tell
by Jeffrey Archer
Remember decades ago when Jeffrey Archer used to write those fantastic epics? Kane & Able, As the Crow Flies; that’s what I’m talking about! Here’s the good news: His latest novel, Only Time Will Tell harkens back to his glory days. It’s the most entertaining thing he’s written in years, in my humble opinion. Here’s the bad news: What once would have been a juicy epic tale has fallen victim to the publishing industry’s current trend of trilogizing. (New word. I coined it.)
Except, except, this is NOT a trilogy—this is, in fact, the first of the FIVE planned novels that will comprise The Clifton Chronicles. And as entertaining as the book is, and I’ll get back to that in a moment, this is very annoying. Back in the day, you write an epic, it’s 600 or 800 or even 1,000 pages. James Michener did it. James Clavell did it. And, yes, Jeffrey Archer did it. But in the very recent past, some marketing genius realized that you could get readers to pay a lot more for a long book by chopping it into pieces. Maybe pad the text a little, and leave some white space on the pages. What once might have been an 800-page novel is now three 300-page novels. It is the era of the trilogy. And writers don’t even have to worry about writing in story arcs to end each segment. No, just end them wherever—or even better, end on cliff-hanger! And don’t warn readers that they’re only getting a very incomplete portion of the story they signed on to read! And make them wait years to get to the conclusion!
The series is named the Clifton Chronicles after the protagonist, Harry Clifton. This novel opens in 1919, when Harry is a mere gleam in his father’s eye. What follows is roughly the first 20 years of that young man’s life. Despite his very modest circumstances, Harry, it turns out, is a gifted fellow. In addition to being very bright, he’s a truly exceptional singer. Harry’s talents are recognized by several people in a position to nurture them, and so it comes to pass that this dock worker’s son has an opportunity for an education and a future his family could not have imagined.
This first book covers Harry’s school years—the friends and enemies he makes along the way, the triumphs and setbacks, the secrets and lies, and the many, many melodramas. Archer is at his soapy best, and Harry’s story is engaging, eventful, and fast-paced. He’s a likable protagonist, a veritable paragon of virtue, as are his mother, friends, educators, and so forth. You’ll know the baddies when you see them. Archer’s characters are not nuanced. What you see is what you get. But none of this takes away from the fun of the story being told. Only Time Will Tell is not challenging or literary; it’s just good old-fashioned escapist fiction. I had a great time reading it. And as much as I grumble, I will be back for part two. Grrr.