Jeffery Archer’s latest is a fiction book that I read after a long long time now. Basically got attracted due to the attention that it got in the press recently, courtesy Archer’s tour to India to promote his book. By the way I had a glimpse of him at Bangalore’s Landmark, but the crowd was too much and I neither had enough patience nor the adoration to wait and get a copy of the book signed. But I did buy a copy of his latest book “A Prisoner of Birth” and finished reading it in two days, partly because it was fast and partly because I have to finish it and move on to more important things..like..term papers!!
The book is not of the class of “The Fourth Estate” or “As the Crow flies”, by favorites of Archer. (I have not read “Kane and Abel” yet!!) The book is more like “Not a penny more, not a penny less” and his previous work “False Impressions”. As those of you who followed Archer’s tour and his interviews would have made out that this is a story of man whose life goes awry after being falsely convicted of murdering his best friend and how he takes his revenge on the culprits.
Archer treads on areas that he is good at – London, courtrooms, prison J and legal issues – and so comes out successfully. The courtroom exchanges are very good. The protagonist, Danny Cartwright, of the novel is a car mechanic from London’s East End, one of those not so rich and posh area of London as I could make out from the book. The villains include the elite – a Queen’s counsel, an actor, an aristocrat and a successful partner at a leading law firm. Archer brings out the divide between the social strata through his depiction and dialogue and how the jury is convinced of the story of the four witnesses because of their background. And that is the basis of the title of the book, “A Prisoner of Birth”. One of the characters says in the book “Each of us suffer by being a prisoner of birth.” Cartwright is a gem of a character even though he is an uneducated car mechanic but no one believes his story because of his background whereas the false version of the four ‘elite’ witnesses is accepted.
Even many of us, me included, make the same mistake as the jury does, very often in life. We try to gauge our first impressions of a person from where he is from, who he is, the way he dresses, the way in which he talks, like the language etc. and the social strata he belongs too. Sometimes we do it knowingly, but mostly we do it unconsciously because of the social conditioning. I am pretty sure that all of us would have had experiences where we had to change our initial opinion of some person (for better or worse) after interacting more with the person. These instances offer us an opportunity to learn and better ourselves.
Though Archer is not preaching in his book (he knows too well not to do so), “A Prisoner of Birth” tries to indirectly point us this prejudice that many of us suffer from and that is the take-away for me from this book.
P.S: As for the book do read it if you like fiction, revenge and courtroom exchanges.