Book: A Prisoner of Birth
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Reviewed by Shaza Khalid
I really don’t know how one can actually classify Jeffrey Archer’s books into a particular genre. In almost all his books, even his political ones, there is a little bit of everything thrown in. Be it romance, suspense, mystery or adventure, if you want it all in one place, Jeffrey Archer is definitely your man. I happened to re-read my all-time favourite among Archer’s books, A Prisoner of Birth, after a long time, and felt the same joy I had experienced when I read it years ago as a teen. With an amazing plot, which twists and turns repeatedly, this book is fast-paced, and can be described in just one word: unputdownable.
It starts off with Danny Cartwright, the main protagonist, getting down on one knee and proposing to the love of his life and soon-to-be mother of his child, Beth. His engagement celebrations take a horrific turn as his best friend, who also happens to be Beth’s brother, is murdered in a bar brawl by an affluent barrister and a property consultant in the presence of a couple of their friends.
A barely literate, unpolished Danny is no match for these men as they frame him for murder. Danny, on the basis of the combined testimonies of these men, is sentenced to twenty-two years prison in Belmarsh, the highest security prison in the country. The entire trial has been beautifully portrayed. Alex Redmayne, Danny’s lawyer, has unwavering belief in his client’s innocence and does everything he can to help him. But unfortunately, due to his inexperience, he loses the case.
Like most of Jeffrey Archer’s heroes, Danny is brave and intelligent, and makes the most of his opportunities. While in prison, he meets Nick Moncrieffe, an ex-army officer. Moncrieffe changes Danny forever; while he could barely read before, Nick manages to change all that and teaches Danny everything he can – from reading and writing simple English to table manners. The Danny who went to the prison as a coarse garage mechanic, walks out as a refined gentleman who is ready to go to university and, of course, avenge himself.
But time does not only change Danny; it also makes Alex older and wiser, so that when he has to represent Danny again, he does not make the same mistakes. Beth, through the entire course of time that her fiancée is undergoing trial and is in prison, remains unshakeable in her belief that he is innocent and is untiring in her quest for justice.
As some of you might very well know, Jeffrey Archer himself served prison sentences and the prison where Danny serves his sentence, Belmarsh, is the same one where Archer himself was confined. So, it’s no wonder that the account of prison that he gives is pretty accurate and at the same time it makes you realise that people who are convicted are as smart or maybe even more so than normal people - only they are on the wrong path.
The story is fast-paced with characters going in and out at regular intervals. Its theme represents the same old battle between good versus evil and love versus hate that have been with us since time immemorial. The trial scenes are very well-scripted and almost make you believe that you are there. The language is fairly easy to understand and every now and then a little bit of humour is thrown in which prevents the book from becoming dry. In short, for someone who likes these kinds of books, Prisoner of Birth is a must read.