Saturday, 3 June 2017

Flat finish to the Clifton Chronicles

Being a loyal Jeffrey Archer fan, I picked up the first of the Clifton Chronicles (Only Time Will Tell) almost as soon as it was released. I had spent the previous few months awaiting this saga, the one that promised to tell a sweeping, all-encompassing story of its 3 heroes through all of the 20th century. The setting has many similarities to Archer's own life, the setting in South West England, life at a dockyard (Archer's grandfather worked in one), life as an MP, life as a successful author, life in prison, life on the verge of bankruptcy. Many say that Archer's life story would make a great read and that's an understatement!

And the series. at first, did not disappoint. It was hallmark Archer. Solid storyline, bold characters, sneaky twists and turns - all leading up to a sucker punch ending. I waited eagerly again for the next one. As the series evolved, however, the story seemed to lose some of its tautness. Like a much-loved champagne left out overnight after a party, I could recognise the tasting notes that had made me fall in love but gone were the bubbles and buzz, the flavour and fizz. I am nothing but a loyalist, and despite falling out of love by Book #3 (Best Kept Secret) in the series, with all of the might of my Taurean stubbornness, I vowed to not quit.

This was meant to be a 5 year project with a book each year, covering 20 years at a time. I wish the editor held Archer to it, because the last 2 books were like flat warm beer. Stories continue to meander and characters are added to just add to the length of the book rather than the story. In Book #6 (Cometh the Hour) What was the point of the Bollywoodesque love story between Sebastian and Priya? 1970s Bombay looks and feels mysteriously like 2015 and you cringe at the lack of research. Children's voices have never been well developed in an Archer novel, but Jessica's precociousness is as annoying as a thousand nails on a chalkboard. Even the perfection of the 3 protagonists now seem boring, having seen it already for 5 400+ page books prior to this.

Coming to Book #7 (This Was a Man), there seems to be very little point in even writing it. The first chapter resolves the characteristic twist in the tail that Archer ends each book with. The rest of the book focuses on minor characters and more meandering subplots rather than extending anything of significance in the protagonists' lives. More time was spent on the details of a school cricket match rather than the triumphs and failures of the Cliftons and Barringtons.

This dull ending to a much anticipated saga has made me somewhat sad, rather like losing an old friend. One that you haven't always kept in touch with, but so much of your early life and love are tied up in your memories of him. I have enjoyed many an Archer novel and short story over the years. I want to remember him for those - the sweeping drama of Kane and Abel, the thrill of the chase in Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, the cat-and-mouse game in A Twist in the Tale, the wit and entertainment in A Quiver Full of Arrows... The Clifton Chronicles was an audacious goal to take on at the age of 70. It was entertaining in parts. But instead of the characteristic cracking showdown in the Archer from the past, this one fizzles to a very very flat finish.