Book Review: Heads You Win

Book Review - Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

I have always been a Jeffrey Archer fan, liking his book for the simplicity of language and the consequent ease of reading.  I have read pretty much all his books (save the Prison Diaries).

So, when I came across the Clifton Chronices, it was hard to resist.  Archer has written 4 books in the chronicle, one each year - the last one due in 2015.

I read the 4 books back to back - probably the first time in more than a decade to do so!  Another difference was reading them in iPad (mostly from 10.30 PM to midnight after our little one goes to sleep).

Clifton Chronicles is about the life and times of Clifton and Barrington family in England from the year 1919.

  • Only Time Will Tell  (1919-1940)
  • The Sins of the Father (1939-1945)
  • Best Kept Secret (1945-1957)
  • Be Careful What You Wish For (1957-1964)
Spoiler alert - especially across books... Do not read further if you want to retain suspense.

Only Time Will Tell

Harry Clifton is the son of Maise Clifton, who lives in Bristol.  His father is no more and is believed to have been killed in World War I.  He grows up with his mother and uncle Stan, who works for Barrington Shipping. He is a good choir singer and gets into school due to this skill.  He befriends Old Jack Tar, who lives in a railway carriage in the dockyard.  Giles Barrington is his classmate in school along with the scholarly Deakins.  Harry almost runs away from school after being ragged by Alex Fisher, a senior.

Giles's father, Hugo Barrington cannot stand Harry, though the rest of the family like him.  Harry and Giles' sister Emma do a school drama together and become close.  They decide to get married, but their wedding is interrupted by Old Jack Tar.

It is 1939 and Harry wants to join the Royal Navy in preparation for war.  Thanks to Giles' grandfather Sir Walter Barrington, he boards the ship Devonian, bound for Cuba.  He learns all about life at sea, before the ship is torpedoed by German u-boats.

He is picked up by an American vessel Kansas Star, along with Tom Bradshaw, who is critically wounded.  Tom passes away and Harry says his name is "Tom Bradshaw", effectively indicating to the world that Harry is dead.

The book ends with him being arrested on arrival in USA for first degree murder.

The Sins of the Father

Harry is imprisoned (as Tom Bradshaw) in an American jail for 6 years for desertion. Emma refuses to believe that Harry is dead.  She notices a letter in Harry's mother's home and recognizes Harry's handwriting.

She arrives in America, leaving her son Sebastian with her mother. She realizes that a popular bestseller is nothing but Harry's story.  Before she can meet Harry, Harry has been released on condition that he serves the remaining time in US Army.  

Giles also does Army duty and gets a Military Cross.

Giles' father Hugo is in financial trouble.  He befriends a rich Jew Olga, stating he is divorcing his wife.  He get her robbed and uses the money.  Once Olga realizes Hugo is not going to marry her, she confronts Hugo.  Both die, leaving behind their daughter Jessica in orphanage.

After the war, Giles and Harry return to Bristol with Emma.  The family is reunited. 

The success of his books in prison leads Harry to pursue a career as a writer of detective stories. 

There is a case on who inherits the title after Hugo's death.

The story ends with the Lord Chancellor needing to pronounce judgement.

Best Kept Secret

Lord Chancellor lets Giles inherit the title.
Giles gets engaged to Virginia, Earl of Fenvick.  She is disliked by all. Giles' mother, Elizabeth has her will changed on the day of her death.
The will is contested by Giles, but the judge has no choice but to rule in Emma's favour after reviewing the evidence supplied by Harry.

Giles marries Virginia, but gets divorced from her soon. 

Alex joins the board of Barrington, thanks to the purchase of shares by Virginia Fenvick.

Giles contests the Elections as a Labour Party candidate and gets elected, despite stiff opposition from Captain Alex Fisher, under whom he served in the War.

Harry and Emma adopt Jessica, but Jessica does not know who her actual father is.

Sebastian runs away to London after having incurred the ire of his teacher.  He visits his friend Bruno Pedro.  His father Don Pedro asks him to accompany him to Buenos Aires, Argentina and return with a shipment for which he would be paid 100 pounds.

Sebastian goes with Don Pedro.  Don, in fact, happens to have counterfeit money from World War II, which he is planning to bring to London in a shipment through Sebastian.

The Government officials, with Harry's and Emma's help unearth the plot and destroy the money.  Don swears revenge and decides to get Sebastian killed.

The book ends with the car in which Sebastian and Bruno are driving is rammed by a lorry on the highway.

Be Careful What You Wish For 

Sebastian survives and Bruno dies, which angers Don even further.

He buys Barrington shares and gets Alex Fisher back in board. He sabotages and delays a new ship being built by Barrington with information from Alex.  He enlists the help of IRA for this.  

Jessica grows up and becomes an accomplished artist.  She falls in love with Clive Bingham, whose father Robert Bingham runs Bingham's Fish Paste.  Virginia, friend of Clive's mother, discloses Jessica's lineage.  Jessica goes back home to find her paintings destroyed.  This is too much for her to bear.

Cedric Hardcastle, owner of Farthings Bank is also a director of Barrington Shipping. Sebastian begins working for him.  Cedric decides to destroy Don Pedro and enlists the aid of Robert Bingham.  
Don falls into the trap and ends up losing money and reputation.  To top it, his trusted aide (a Nazi guy) is kidnapped and sent to Israel.  His children get arrested and leave to Argentina, never to return again.

Don pays IRA to exact revenge on Cliftons and Barringtons.  

The ship, Buckingham is ready.  The Queen does the naming ceremony.  It embarks on its maiden voyage.  However, the ship has some passengers who are upto no good.

The book ends with a blast in the ship, engineered by IRA.

At around 400-odd pages, each book is about 7 hours read (a week's effort at one hour per day). 

All books move at a fast pace - in typical Jeffrey Archer style.  There are twists and turns, which keep you on your seat.

There are many characters and sub-plots, but they blend well into the main narrative.  

And yes, the books needs to be read in order for them to make sense. 


  1. Great review, Raghuram. Thanks.
    I came across another great review of clifton chronicles here:

  2. great way for me to refresh what happened in old books. can you post one for the latest Cometh the Hour too?

  3. Here you go...

  4. How did Giles and Gwenyth's son Walter die?


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