Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Prisoner Of Birth - Jeffrey Archer

A Prisoner Of Birth
Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin’s Press


It should have been the best night of Danny Cartwright’s life. His longtime girlfriend, Beth, is expecting his child, and has accepted his proposal; his lifelong best friend, Bernie, would become his brother-in-law; and Bernie’s dad was set to retire and leave his garage business in Danny’s hands. Instead, when Danny, Beth, and Bernie leave their familiar East End haunts for a Chelsea pub to celebrate the happy occasion, they run into a quartet of West End Cambridge-educated men. Remarks are made, leading to a fight in the alley. At the end of that fight, Bernie is dead from several stab wounds. By the next morning, Danny is in custody as the killer.

Beth truly believes that Danny will be acquitted. There’s just no way an innocent man could be convicted. Danny’s trial lawyer is young and relatively new, although he is the son of a retired judge. The prosecutor is an old hand who puts on a case that includes three of the four Cambridge men who all claim that it was Danny who killed Bernie; the outcome is almost never in doubt. Danny is convicted and sentenced to 22 years in a high-security prison. There, his cellmate teaches him to read and write. Together, the men hatch a scheme that they hope will allow Danny to break out, prove his innocence, and gain revenge.

Archer is a great storyteller and uses Dumas and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO to great effect here, and manages to throw in some very neat twists. The plot contains several layers. The book can be read as a thriller; or as an exploration of the dichotomy, even in the best of legal systems, in the way people of different socioeconomic classes access justice. For readers familiar with Dumas and the author’s past few years, there are additional layers of meaning to be plumbed, but they’re not strictly necessary to the enjoyment of the novel. No matter how you read it, this is a fast-paced thriller and a fascinating look at the English legal system from the other side of the bars.

Rating: 8
March 2008
ISBN# 978-0-312-37929-2 (hardcover)


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