Mightier Than the Sword – and my fifteen minutes

9781250034519_p0_v1_s260x420My fifteen minutes of fame came as a character in Jeffrey Archer’s latest installment of the Clifton Chronicles – Mightier Than the Sword.

Rarely do I enter contests; even more rarely do I win one – yet, Jeffrey Archer picked me. My prize – my name as a character in his next book – Mightier Than the Sword. Although I was hoping to be the evil mastermind, my namesake is a minor character appearing only briefly but consistently. Maybe you can find it – if you don’t blink.

If you are a fan of the Clifton Chronicles, you are primed to expect adventure and sabotage,  connecting the network of established characters in the Barrington and Clifton family trees.  Harry Clifton uses the book’s opening bombing incident on his wife’s new ocean liner as fodder for his latest successful spy thriller, and remains true to his moral compass as well as his penchant for crime solving, as Archer weaves Harry into a Russian undercover plot to suppressing state secrets reminiscent of a Solzhenitsyn exposé.  Emma, Chair of Barrington Shipping Company, faces her own issues with old nemesis Virginia, beautiful ex-wife of her brother Giles.  Sebastian, son of Harry and Emma, now a young handsome finance wizard, had my undivided attention, since he is the character who interacts with my namesake – on more than one occasion.  More characters reappear, but Archer carefully provides background for anyone who has not read the previous books in the series.  If you are a new fan, you might consider starting at the beginning with a binge-read, saving yourself from the angst of the inevitable cliff-hanging ending.

Reading an Archer novel is like watching an episode of your favorite television series.  The plot twists are usually surprising, the villains sometimes win the battles, the heroes are vulnerable, and satisfying solutions usually prevail.  I dare you to not read the books quickly as I do, furiously seeking the next outcome.  Maybe in the next installment, Dr. Rosemary Wolfe will return and play a bigger role in Sebastian’s life – I hope so.

Related Reviews: Previous books in The Clifton Chronicles

Russian Winter

Winter is coming soon to some places – even here in the tropics, the sun sets in a different spot as it sinks into the ocean, the wind blows a little chillier, mornings are crisper.  Not too many fireplaces where I live, but if you have one, Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter could be cozy solace as you sip your hot chocolate or brandy.

A romantic mystery involving a famous Russian ballerina who defected with precious jewels, Russian Winter slowly unravels the life of one of the Bolshoi’s stars, Nina Revskay.    Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, who defected to the United States in the sixties, died recently – giving Kalotay’s book an eerie timeliness.

The story meanders back and forth from Nina’s flashbacks; in the present Nina is an old frail woman who is mysteriously bitter about her past and holds a terrifying secret.  She decides to sell the jewels she hid in her escape from Stalin to the free world, with her amber bracelet and earrings holding special value for their personal history and provenance.

Drew, the young associate at the Boston auction house where the jewels will be sold is dealing with her own personal demons; Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian literature, who owns the necklace in the amber set, is determined to discover the jewel’s link to his parentage. They both have questions that Nina is reluctant to answer.

Kalotay sprinkles her narrative with historic references to Russian life before and after Stalin, including information about the labor camps and amber mines.  Kalotay  also documents the changes in the work and life of artists living in Soviet Russia and offers clear and detailed insights into that culture.  The cast of Russian characters has a number of minor supporting characters, with the principles including Vera Borodina, Nina’s childhood friend; the Jewish composer, Aron Gershtein, who is in love with Vera; Nina’s renowned poet husband, Viktor; and Viktor’s devious mother…

{Nina}:  “People think I fled Russia to escape communism.  Really I was escaping my mother-in-law.”

The complexity of the plot and the number of characters may keep you off-balance, but in the end, love letters, a poem, and the jewels come together for the final revelation of betrayal and misunderstanding – and, of course, a happy and satisfying resolution.

Russian Winter is a slow read – you may doze off now and then while reading – but the artistic movements are graceful and the Cold War history unnerving.

Related Article:  How Stalin’s Daughter Defected