Book Review: Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer

By Samyukta Maindarkar | dna Webdesk

Not quite vintage Archer.

Book: Be Careful What You Wish For
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: Pan Macmillan/387pages
Cost: Rs. 399

Be Careful What You Wish For is the fourth novel in the Clifton Chronicles, after Only Time Will Tell, The Sins of the Father, and Best Kept Secret. Set mostly in England and spanning the years 1957 to 1964, it follows the fortunes of the Clifton-Barrington family as they have a face off with Don Pedro Martinez, an Argentinean smuggler who becomes a sworn enemy after being thwarted — in the preceding book — in his bid to smuggle counterfeit currency into England.

Like all of Archer’s bestsellers, this one too plunges straight into the heart of the action-packed plot — though calling it a series of plots might be a better description. Martinez is hell-bent on destroying the Barringtons, and is prepared to use any means necessary to achieve his goal, regardless of who ends up hurt — or dead — in the process. A personal tragedy at the start of the book deepens Martinez’s thirst for revenge. Thus begins a tale of ambition, betrayal and vengeance.

When Martinez targets Emma Clifton’s family firm, the prestigious Barrington Shipping Company, she has to fight tooth and nail to prevent a hostile takeover in the form of Major Alex Fisher, another old enemy who Martinez intends to install as a puppet chairman of the board. The future of the firm is at stake, especially with the board divided over the building of a new luxury liner, the MV Buckingham.

The 1960s are a time when the shadows of WWII are receding and the world is moving into a new era. Archer captures the atmosphere perfectly by weaving the political climate into the backdrop of the storyline. When construction of the ship begins at a yard in Belfast in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, enters the picture.

Meanwhile, Yorkshireman Cedric Hardcastle, the chairman of the traditional bank Farthings, has to overcome prejudices that still linger from WWII in order to conduct business with a fast-growing Japanese firm. When the bank almost misses out on an important business contract, Hardcastle has to investigate and remove the threat to his company. What he discovers changes the lives of all the protagonists of the novel.

Despite the fast-paced plot, Be Careful What You Wish For is simultaneously intriguing and frustrating. Since it is the fourth novel of the series, not many details of the plot background and the character histories are elaborated upon in this book. It is highly recommended that you read the first three books of the series before tackling this one, so that you have a complete idea of what the Clifton Chronicles are about.

Other things about the book jar as well. There are many parallel events which come across as jumbled pieces that, at times, don’t seem to fit together. This has resulted in some choppy narration, quite uncharacteristic coming from the bestseller author.

Also, despite the action — be it murder, theft, or a corporate takeover — the narration is very matter-of-fact. The author seems strangely disconnected from the story rather than involved with his characters, and therefore, the reader is too. There are also some plot additions that were probably meant to insert a lighter vein in the story, but are entirely unnecessary and undermine the plot instead.

That being said, it is not for no reason that Archer is one of the bestselling authors in the world. Once the reader gets caught up in the twists and turns of the story, there is no putting the book down. Then you reach the last pages and find that Archer has cleverly ended the book on a cliffhanger, ensuring his readers will be impatiently waiting for more.

*Originally published on on April 20, 2014