Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is book one in the Clifton Chronicles. Harry Clifton, son of a dock worker and a cleaning woman, is a young man with a hidden talent. Skipping school to follow his uncle to the docks, he has no higher hope than joining his uncle at the docks when he’s old enough to leave school. But, Old Jack Tar, an enigmatic man who lives in an old box car at the docks sees in Harry the man he can become. The road to that outcome, however, is littered with detritus of the past, a past that Harry can only guess at. It starts with his father, who he has been told was ‘killed in the Great War,’ a story that even young Harry knows is false.
What he cannot know, though, is that his mother, Old Jack, and other adults in his life, are keeping a dark secret from him, a secret that will emerge from the darkness of the past to haunt him as he stands on the verge of manhood, and is about to marry, Emma, the love of his life. It is a marriage that is doomed from the start by the stunning revelation that Emma might be his half-sister, and worse, that her father—who is possibly Harry’s father as well—was involved in his father’s death.
Looming over all this is the menacing shadow of Hitler’s rise in Germany, and the threat of another war, a war that Harry is determined to serve in.
A stunning portrayal of life in England in the period between World War I and the outbreak of World War II, Only Time Will Tell takes the reader into the lives of the characters in a unique way. The story whips back and forth, detailing the intricate histories of each character; setting the scene with a first person view of each character, followed by a third person account of events that shaped that particular person’s life.
The ending, a bang-up of a cliffhanger, which I will not divulge so as not to spoil it for new readers, sets the stage perfectly for Harry’s further adventures.
Archer writes extremely well, with excellent characterizations, but because of the unresolved issues in the book, I’m only giving him four stars for this one.