In the second installment (after Only Time Will Tell) of Archer’s five-volume saga, Harry Clifton, a Bristol dockworker’s son, and Giles Barrington, the assumed heir to the Barrington estate, seek to enlist in World War II despite various obstacles.
Harry joins the Merchant Navy and, after a German U-boat sinks his ship, is among a group rescued by an American cruise liner. He attempts to escape his past by assuming another sailor’s identity but, as a result, lands in an American jail serving a six-year sentence. Meanwhile, the color-blind Barrington finagles his way into the British army, and Emma Barrington, Harry’s intended, gives birth to a boy whose parentage, like Harry’s, is a mystery.
As usual, Archer permits his characters to drive the plot, enriching its multiple layers with their own perspectives. He also
introduces semiautobiographical elements: Harry authors a series of diaries while
serving as prison librarian, and in the concluding chapters, a debate regarding the Barrington Shipping fortune’s legitimate heir demonstrates Archer’s intimate knowledge of parliamentary procedures.
Although the plot twists and cliff-hangers seem sensational in spots, Archer’s panache and sharp repartee maintain the excitement and sheer fun of reading this literary master.