- Jeffrey Archer tells a tale that shows a reader that things and people and events aren’t always what they seem
- It starts with a joyous evening for a young couple, Danny and Beth, who became engaged that very night
- Danny is the beneficiary of one of those coincidences so relished by mystery writers
- Danny, while in prison, is tutored by one of his cellmates in speaking correctly
- Knowing who the murderer and his cohorts are, he sets about plotting
- The characters are well-drawn, and they are generally believable in their deeds
- Will Danny and Beth ever have a normal life?
- Overall, there is a lot in this novel
- It’s a good, fast, entertaining read. I recommend it.
Jeffrey Archer tells a tale that shows a reader that things and people and events aren’t always what they seem
In this particular mystery, A Prisoner of Birth, Archer takes readers on a labyrinthine journey through courts, prisons, probation offices, homes grand and humble, wealthy and impoverished parts of London, people good and bad. And in this well-plotted mystery, very little is what it seems, what it was intended to be, or what it was when it all began.
It starts with a joyous evening for a young couple, Danny and Beth, who became engaged that very night
The happy evening ends with Beth’s brother dead in an alley and Danny arrested for his murder. Danny’s trial takes place in London’s Old Bailey; the reader knows from the beginning who the murderer and those protecting him are. Danny’s naive belief that right must prevail, that the innocent aren’t punished, is blown to smithereens when he is found guilty. He is sent off to prison for 22 years.
Danny is the beneficiary of one of those coincidences so relished by mystery writers
A prison official believes in Danny’s innocence and arranges that he be confined in the same cell as two other prisoners, whose actions will forever change Danny’s life. One of these men resembles Danny closely enough to be his brother, and this likeness sets up the rest of the story.
Danny, while in prison, is tutored by one of his cellmates in speaking correctly
Danny loses his East-end accent, and learns the proper manners of a well-bred, upper-class Englishman. Although this part of the story, his life in prison following a tedious trial, drags a bit, the tale goes into high gear when Danny finds himself out of prison, living the life of the landed gentry and determined, as he puts it, to “get his own back.” To do this, however, he must become someone else entirely. Thus, he must stay away from his beloved Beth, and others who might see through the new persona to the real Danny.
Knowing who the murderer and his cohorts are, he sets about plotting
Danny plots some fascinating, uncommonly clever and delightfully dastardly methods—short of physical harm—of ruining the lives of the men who ruined his. Here is where the reader must pay close attention in order to get the most out of the descriptions of the ingenious plots he puts together. Danny is gifted in mathematics and soon learns enough about the machinations of the moneyed class to lay traps for the guilty ones that are sheer pleasure to read about.
Naturally, this being a mystery and a well-plotted, complicated mystery at that, things don’t go smoothly for Danny and those he’s found to help him. Some of his well-laid traps are discovered, since his opponents are not fools, even if they are evil. We wonder on occasion as Danny takes risk after risk, who will be the winner in the end, but it appears that Danny will prevail. Then, at almost the moment of success, everything seems to fall apart and he appears at risk of losing his freedom one more time.
The characters are well-drawn, and they are generally believable in their deeds
One character, an actor, is so caught up in himself that he is almost laughably pathetic, yet the role he plays in the story is consistent with the way Archer has developed his character and his role in the tale. If the book were a play, the audience would hiss and boo the evil doers, and readers will look forward eagerly to the day when Danny “gets his own back.” We root for him and suffer when he has the necessary setbacks that a good mystery tale requires.
Will Danny and Beth ever have a normal life?
- Will Beth still love Danny after all they have been through?
- Will he get to be a real father to his little girl, who knew him only through visits to prison?
- Will each of the villains get what they have so richly earned?
Archer answers these questions and more in his own way and own time. And I cannot finish this review, at risk of being a spoiler, without saying that Archer has devised one of the most devilish and perfect endings anyone could for the mystery he has created in A Prisoner of Birth.
Overall, there is a lot in this novel
Sinners and, if not saints, some really good people. A look at the English justice system with its frailties and strengths, both inside and outside of prison. And there are enough intricate plots for good or evil to make the most sensible head spin.
It’s a good, fast, entertaining read. I recommend it.