Mightier than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer is the fifth installment in The Clifton Chronicles (available February 24, 2015).
This is Jeffrey Archer’s fifth entry in the Clifton Chronicles and it literally opens with a bang. On the Buckingham, the cruise ship built by Emma (Barrington) Clifton’s company, the IRA sets off a bomb designed to kill as many people as possible. Of course Harry Clifton figures out the conspiracy just in time and the bomb is lobbed into the sea. To explain the massive explosion, protect the company, and prevent the passengers from knowing how close they came to death, an alternate explanation is put about: that the Home Guard was engaged in maneuvers. The Buckingham’s Captain’s apology for sailing too close to the Home Guard is put into the Board minutes and becomes the official version of the explosion.
This cover-up becomes an on-going problem for Emma throughout the story. Lady Virginia Fenwick, one of the most poisonous characters in modern literature, seeks to uncover the true story and use it to take down Emma and acquire the company in the process.
Like the other entries in this series, Mightier than the Sword is an episodic adventure. Archer follows a large and diverse cast of characters and their political, romantic and financial machinations.
Harry Clifton, for example, spends several years (this novel covers a time frame that stretches from the late nineteen-sixties to the early seventies) trying to obtain the manuscript of a Russian named Anatoly Babakov and see it published. This is Leonid Breshnev’s USSR, however, and not only were all the copies printed in Russia destroyed and Babakov sent to a work camp for twenty years hard labor, but the printing presses themselves were broken to pieces. And Harry Clifton is persona non grata for his defense of Babakov in the communist countries.
Besides Emma’s and Harry’s stories, the novel follows their son, Sebastian. The death of his mentor at Farthings Bank leaves him at the mercy of Adrian Sloane, a man he loathes. Although Sebastian lands on his feet and acquires a post in another bank, he never forgives Sloane and begins to plan operations against him of almost-Machiavellian complexity.
Mightier than the Sword is a real page-turner. Will Emma Clifton be forced off the board of her own company? Will Lady Virginia Fenwick win her libel suit against Emma? Will Harry find Babakov’s manuscript, and will it finally be published? These questions and more keep the reader engaged. But what I liked best of all is that this is essentially a story of decisions and their consequences.
When Harry Clifton speaks at a symposium in Russia, he delivers an impassioned speech about Babakov and human rights, probably my favorite in the entire book:
“Attending this conference today are historians, biographers, scientists, and even a few novelists, all of whom take for granted their latest work will be published, however critical they are of their governments, their leaders, even their political system. Why? Because you come from countries that can handle criticism, satire, mockery, even derision, and whose citizens can be entrusted to make up their own minds as to a book’s merit. Authors from the Soviet Union are published only if the State approves of what they have to say. How many of you in this room would be languishing in jail if you had been born in Russia?
“I say to the leaders of this great country, why not allow your people the same privileges we in the West take for granted? You can start by releasing Anatoly Babakov and allowing his book to be published. That is, if you have nothing to fear from the torch of freedom. I will not rest until I can buy a copy of Uncle Joe at Hatchards on Piccadilly, Doubleday on Fifth Avenue, Dymocks in Sydney, and George’s bookshop in Park Street, Bristol. But most of all, I’d like to see a copy on the shelves of the Lenin Library in Vozdvizhenka Street, a few hundred yards from this hall.”
The consequences of this speech reverberate through the book, and not just for Harry.
Giles Barrington’s affair in Berlin may cost him his marriage and his seat in Commons, but it is Harry’s efforts to publish the Babakov book, and Barrington’s refusal to lie about his support, that prevents him from returning to East Berlin to search for the woman he loves.
Sebastian Clifton also crashes head-on into the consequences of his decisions, though recalling the advice of his first boss and mentor, Cedric Hardcastle:
“Know how much you can afford, never overstretch yourself, and try to remember that the other side are also hoping to make a profit. And build good contacts because they’ll be your life line during bad times, as only one thing is certain in banking— you will experience bad times. And by the way,” he’d added, “never buy retail.
But when Adrian Sloane takes over the bank, Sebastian is determined to do everything in his power to punish him, so he tries to become more like Sloane. He forgets the warning from Samantha’s father to bad effect.
In Mightier than the Sword, every decision has a consequence, just as in real life.
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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her most recent historical mystery featuring Will Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran turned weaver is Death of a Dyer. She lives in New York.