Best Kept Secret is Volume Three of The Clifton Chronicles, Jeffrey Archer’s series about Harry Clifton and the Barrington family, set primarily in England. The series began with Harry’s coming-of-age story in Only Time Will Tell and continued with his adventures during World War II in The Sins of the Father. Because each book in the series picks up right where the last one left off, with little back story from the previous books, they really should be read in order. But don’t fret; they are all fast-paced with well-developed, interesting characters, so it won’t take too long to catch up.
In Best Kept Secret, which spans the years 1945 to 1958, Harry is a well-known crime novelist and finally settling into a quiet life with his wife, Emma Barrington, and their young son, Sebastian. Archer tells the story through the points of view of Harry, Emma, Sebastian, and Giles Barrington, Harry’s best friend and Emma’s brother. Readers follow the Cliftons and the Barringtons as Harry goes on tour for his latest book, Emma begins the adoption process to give Sebastian a sibling, and Giles fights to keep his seat in Parliament.
Sebastian earns main character status when he plays a pivotal role in Giles’ re-election campaign, which occurs just as Giles’ nemesis and a scheming, money-hungry member of high society join forces to take down the Barrington family and the company they have run for generations. Best Kept Secret ends up being Sebastian’s coming-of-age story, as he navigates the world of academics and the temptations of more experienced women and unknowingly steps into the world of organized crime.
Archer’s prose is straightforward with minimal description, and at times — at least in the first few chapters — it’s more telling than showing as he fast-forwards a bit in the characters’ lives. After that, the book speeds ahead, introducing and resolving one plot line at a time and leaving me breathless by the end. Archer really knows how to build tension and move the story forward. I’ve enjoyed seeing Harry evolve over time, and I love how Emma is a strong woman not afraid to show her intelligence, take an interest in the family company, and further her education at a time when women weren’t accepted in the boardroom. These are characters I enjoy spending time with, and I just don’t want the series to end.
Best Kept Secret is an exciting addition to the series that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. And even though I knew it was coming (based on the endings of the first two books), I was still shocked by the cliffhanger ending and upset that I’ll have to wait another year to find out what happens. But if Archer wants me to be excited about the next book, it certainly worked!
(Best Kept Secret is also available as an audio book, and you can listen to the first chapter here.)
Disclosure: I borrowed Best Kept Secret from the public library.
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