Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer is the third book in the Clifton Chronicles series (available April 30, 2013).
Most of the time when someone finds himself involved in a lawsuit, he wants to come out the winner. This is not true for Harry Clifton. As the book opens, Harry is waiting for a decision that will determine his future. In his case, losing the lawsuit would be the best thing that ever happened to him. If he wins, he will be named the heir to the Barrington name and fortune. But if he loses, he will be able to marry Emma Barrington, the love of his life and the mother of his son.
It’s no surprise when Harry’s best friend and Emma’s brother, Giles, comes out the winner in court. Everyone is thrilled with the results, and Harry and Emma finally tie the knot. What follows takes the reader through the beginning of post-World War II life in England, when women still can’t serve on the board of a company and air travel is starting to become a replacement for long journeys by sea. It’s as fun as Downton Abbey minus the drama in the lives of the servants downstairs.
Harry Clifton, a successful novelist, has finished the latest installment in his William Warwick detective series. Giles Barrington is busy campaigning to be reelected to his seat in Parliament, and to everyone’s dismay has started dating Virginia, a horrible and controlling woman. She’s someone the reader can love to hate.
When Giles introduced Virginia to her on Friday evening, Emma was puzzled by what her brother could possibly see in the woman. Emma accepted that she was beautiful and well connected. In fact Virginia reminded them more than once that she’d been Deb of the Year (in 1934), and three times that she was the daughter of the Earl of Fenwick, before they’d even sat down for dinner.
Emma might have dismissed this as simply being nerves, if Virginia hadn’t picked at her food and whispered to Giles during dinner, in tones she must have known they could overhear, how difficult it must be to find decent domestic staff in Gloucestershire. To Emma’s surprise, Giles just smiled at these observations, never once disagreeing with her. Emma was just about to say something she knew she would regret, when Virginia announced that she was exhausted after such a long day and wished to retire.
Sebastian, the son of Emma and Harry, is going through nannies like most kids go through shoes, and his parents are worried he may not fare well in school. When Harry gets word that he will be sent to America for his book tour, he wants to bring his family along.
“My American publishers want me to do a tour of the States when they launch the new book next month.”
“That’s wonderful news, darling. At last you’ll get to meet Great Aunt Phyllis, not to mention Cousin Alistair.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Don’t mock, child!”
“I’m not, because my publishers have suggested you join me on the trip, so you’ll be able to see them too.”
“I’d love to go with you, darling, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Nanny Ryan has packed her bags, and I’m embarrassed to say that the agency’s taken us off their books.”
“Perhaps I could get my publishers to agree to Seb coming along as well.”
“Which would probably result in all of us being deported,” said Emma. “No, I’ll stay at home with Seb, while you go off and conquer the colonies.”
I’m a big fan of post-war England, and I know many others are as well. I have not yet read the first two installments in the Clifton Chronicles, but I didn’t feel at a disadvantage. I was pleased that the author was able to make this book a story in itself, with enough of an explanation of how the characters came to be, but not so much that I felt it was a retelling of previous events. It stood on its own and focused on the events that were unfolding in the present day, or at least present day for the book (1945-1958).
I can only hope that the author picks up where he left off in the next book.
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Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.