Only Time Will Tell – by Jeffrey Archer

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is the first in a continuing saga about a young man, Harry Clifton, whose life, like a ball of string, ravels out from one point at a very early age. He was told his father, a dock worker in Bristol whom he never knew, was killed in the war to end all wars. World War I. And also at a very early age, he suspects that story is not true. And from the docks and shanties of the poor, to the halls of scholarship at the most exclusive boys’ schools, the patronymic nature of this mystery haunts the youth and casts a pall upon a natural and unforeseen talent, and his astonishing academic achievements.

The story of the young Harry Clifton and his devastatingly poor family, is set against the backdrop of the ravages of The Great World War, and whispers of world turmoil yet to come. As the winds of a second conflict blow from a zephyr to a gale, England dithers. School boys talk excitedly of trading their academic apparel and pens for military uniforms and weapons. Who will stay and who will go? And among all these dominant questions is the one Harry Clifton must find an answer — who is his father? And why is one wealthy man willing to destroy everything in his path to keep that answer buried.

Only Time Will Tell is written in a very unusual and unique style, moving from a simple first person narrative to a third person perspective, but always letting the reader know who is telling the story and the time frame in which his narrative is set. Every character — both good and bad — is given his say. Time frames vary as much as the characters, going back to a period already told from one perspective, to be related again from an entirely different point of view.

Characters are well-fleshed, starting with the protagonist, Harry Clifton, as a pre-schooler, whose family is so poor that he is happy to be allowed to lick the porridge bowl at breakfast after his uncle is through with it. There is his mother, Maisie Clifton, whose dream of a simple home with many children died with the sudden disappearance of her husband, and whose one youthful indiscretion came back to haunt her. The only dream left to her now is giving her only son a fighting chance at life.

The household consists of the overbearing Uncle Stan who works at the docks, is drunk when he’s not, knows more than he tells, and leaves just enough food for the others to keep from starving – and never lets them forget they are living there by the goodness of his nature. The others are Harry’s sharp speaking grandmother and seldom speaking, almost deaf grandfather, who nevertheless can come up with some very astute comments on subjects he isn’t supposed to hear.

As a child, Harry’s only friend is Old Jack Tar, an old man who lives in a railway carriage at the end of the dockyard. Warned away from the “stupid, dirty old tramp” by his uncle, Harry finds the lonely old fellow not only much cleaner than his uncle, but a veritable fountain of knowledge.

When Harry manages to get a coveted place at St. Bede’s, one of Bristol’s schools of higher learning — and deeper pockets — the boy who knows nothing of social skills quickly becomes a laughing-stock. But he garners two lifelong friends — the bespectacled and terrifyingly brilliant Deakins and the golden-hearted, silver-spooned Barrington.

Only Time Will Tell is a very well-written insight into Briton’s social stratum during international political upheaval.That it is written simply, concisely, and entertainingly, is even more of an anomaly considering that the author, Jeffrey Archer, was educated at Oxford University and served in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. He is a prolific writer who also wrote, among many others, As The Crow Flies, and The Eleventh Commandment, the only other books of his that I have read.

The only objections I had to Only Time Will Tell is that some of the plot was a little too simplistic and a bit of a stretch. But the excellent story-telling and writing skills far outweighed any of these objections. The other is the fact that it is Volume One of The Clifton Chronicles and the book ends with a cliffhanger – I’m talkin’ by your fingernails cliff hanging. To say that I was a little miffed would be an understatement of epic proportions. It’s a wonder the book is still in pristine condition.


7 thoughts on “Only Time Will Tell – by Jeffrey Archer

  1. Thank you for this splendid review. I LOVE Jeffrey Archer. If you get the chance, read his “Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less” and “Kane and Abel.” Terrific edge-of-your-seat reads and both have been made into very good films.

    I’m a bit confused about “Only Time Will Tell” being book one of “The Clifton Chronicles.” According to, there are two others in this series: “The Sins of the Fathers” (published 5/8/12) and “Best Kept Secret” (to be published 4/30/13.) That would make this book volume two (Published 3/26/13.).

    In any event, I’m ordering both books that are available now and pre-ordering “Best Kept Secret.”

    • I started “Sins of the Fathers” one afternoon and finished it the next. It was a page turner. Although the writing style in “Only Time Will Tell” was by far better “literary” fare than the second, it still kept the story racing and the characters intact. There were a couple of glitches in “Sins of the Fathers” that I was going to make note of but didn’t. One was a sentence that was scrambled and the other was a time element I never could get. It was when she went to the police station and was told the two detectives were on night shift at 10. I went back over it several times and never did get it. And since it wasn’t elemental to the story I just went on. Maybe it was just me and without the “A.M.s” and P.M.s attached I got lost. But when it comes to accuracy in writing I’m OCD, although I didn’t catch the directional glitch that you did on the first one.

      • Yes, it was indeed a page turner. I can see where not using AM and PM would be confusing, but I don’t recall noticing them missing in that scene.

        I just kept wanting to bang my head on a wall and scream at Maisie to READ THE $@&% LETTER that was sitting on her mantle…for ages!

        The third book is quite a page turner, too.


    • Glad you enjoyed the review. Had a good day today. Sister Katie babysat with me while Mike went to church this morning so we watched Les Mis together. She had not seen it. I loved the movie at the theatre, but this second time around tore me apart. Katie and I went through half a role of paper towel. And I loved Ann Hathaway’s part much much better. I melted. We got into a discussion of the book Les Mis, too, which I have got to get back to reading in order to review.

      Back to the book in question from Jeffrey Archer, Mike and I turned to the publication date and found it was published in 2010. It was a new order at the library, and I did not realize the other two books you mentioned were on the market. I thought I would have to wait another couple of years for the cliffhanger.

      You got Mike and I hooked on The Voice. I totally agree with you that it is especially good with Usher and Shakira instead of the other two judges. They make a BIG difference. And it seems like they’ve toned down Blake’s trash mouth and arrogance. The banter is now funnier and I like the whole aura, vibe, etc. of the whole thing. The singers are awesome, and I hated that J’Sun went home. I was pulling for him and hoped he would get picked. Why do you think he lost out?

      Back again to Jeffrey Archer. I have As The Crow Flies around here somewhere and was planning on a re-read. But I’ve already given away a lot of books and put a lot in storage, so there’s no telling. I’ll just get what I can from the library. It’s very small and not much selection unless I want to drive 25 or 30 miles. And we no longer have a book budget. I’m doing re-treads. Ha.

      There are several I want to do reviews on. I want to get back heavily into book and movie reviews and poetry explication. You wouldn’t believe the hits I’m getting on the meaning of poetry. It really surprised me, but a lot of the interest is from foreign countries. I’m still not getting a lot of likes or comments, but I’m also getting a lot of people who read more than one blog. They stay and read a lot of different things. (WordPress gives that ratio). One day I got someone who read through almost my entire repertoire of writings in one sitting. You are about the only person I get real feedback from except those authors and the TV hit. Maybe I don’t know how to market myself. I just don’t know.

      Anyway, it’s good to be communicating again. I also went for my first walk with Mike yesterday for a few minutes. I was shaky and wobbly, but it felt good to be in the sunshine and wind.

      The next obstacle is my shoulder. I’m calling tomorrow to set up an appointment for the bone and CT Scan. I just want them to find the problem and fix it. The pain pills did double duty there and kept the pain at bay, but I just took the last of them tonight so I can sleep.

      Well, gotta run. Will check out your other communications tomorrow. It’s so good having someone with so much in common to talk with. It’s a rare thing.

      Good night,

  2. Glad you got to see “Les Miserables” again. I saw it in the theater and have the Blu-ray, which I’ve watched twice. Usually if I cry in a movie, it’s just because of one scene, but this film had me weeping during many scenes. I’ve never read the book, but I should. Because it’s so old and a “classic,” I can get it on my Kindle for free.

    I can’t answer your question about J’Sun not making it through on “The Voice,” but I liked him better than the fellow he was with in the battle round. It’s just a matter of preference, I guess.

    I’m sure you can get the other Jeffrey Archer books I recommended from the library. They were very popular when first published. There are two libraries in my area: A town library 13 miles away and a larger county library 26 miles away. The county library is heavily endowed by private contributions, but the town library struggles. I give that library most of my books when I’ve finished with them. I’m a very gentle reader so my books are in like new condition and can often go directly to the shelves. Any they don’t want go to their book sale. They have an on-going book sale in the basement and I’ve found some great bargains there. All the hardcovers are a dollar and paperbacks are 50 cents. I also give them DVDs and when I walk in with a shopping bag of DVDs, the librarian’s face lights up like she had just won the lottery.

    How did you make out with the doctor appointment for your shoulder? I really don’t know how you have managed with that painful shoulder at the same time as your surgery. I guess we all just do what we gotta do, but it will be wonderful when you’re pain free.

    I saw the comment elsewhere by your new reader from Humble, Texas. Does Word Press tell you the number of “views” each entry receives? That way you can see how many people are reading, but not commenting. Live Journal has that feature and while I get lots of comments, there are twice as many who read, but don’t comment.

    ” One day I got someone who read through almost my entire repertoire of writings in one sitting.”

    That’s what I did. After I saw your first entry about Il Volo, I backtracked to see what else you had written about.


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