A Prisoner of Birth * Jeffrey Archer

WOW. Just WOW. I loved this book! I think the time Jeffrey Archer spent in jail did wonders to his insight into the way the system works and what type of characters you can expect to see in a prison.

He did writeCat o’nine tales which is a short collection of stories collected from prison but this book takes the whole lot to a new level. If you’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo, you’ll definitely see some resemblance.

Danny Cartwright proposes to his long-time girlfriend Beth Wilson in a very inauspicious day. He and his future brother-in-law and his future wife go to a pub to celebrate with a bit of champagne and shortly after, a pub brawl ensues with four other people who happened to be in the bar at the same time and who were asking for trouble. Bernie, Beth’s brother, gets stabbed fatally with a knife in the chest and Danny takes one to his leg. By the time the ambulance comes, Bernie dies.
Before anyone knows what’s happening, Danny is arrested and charged with the murder of his best friend. But when the four prosecution witnesses are a barrister, a popular actor, an aristocrat, and the youngest partner in an established firm’s history, who is going to believe his side of the story?
Danny is sentenced to twenty-two years and sent to Belmarsh prison, the highest-security jail in the land, from where no inmate has ever escaped.

However, Spencer Craig, Lawrence Davenport, Gerald Payne, and Toby Mortimer all underestimate Danny’s determination to seek revenge, and Beth’s relentless quest to pursue justice, which ends up with all four fighting for their lives.

Danny’s long sentence is made bearable due to his two cell mates: Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, who looks and behaves more like an officer than an inmate. And running-more-true-to-form, the rough and rugged, heavily-built Big Al. Nicholas bears a startling resemblance to Danny and herein lies the crux. When Nick is accidentally murdered, just a few weeks before his release…Danny (with careful mechanisations by Big Al) walks out a free man…as Nicholas Moncrieff. “Act like Nick.Think like Danny.” Constantly keeping this in mind……Danny launches into an intricate and well-planned revenge.

When Danny gets out and takes over Nicholas’s estate and his legal battle with his uncle over his true inheritance, he finds out that Nicholas had left all of his estate to Danny Cartwright… But Danny is now theoretically dead and buried… and the new Nicholas has to be very good in his impersonation as he meets with people who previously knew him.

I loved the legal battle over a stamp collection left to Nicholas by his grandfather and coveted by his uncle Hugo. I also loved how people schemed to put their hands on it – either by bringing a fake will into the play or letters written post-mortum leaving all of the grandfather’s estate explicitly to Hugo. Greed has no boundaries!

In the mean-time, Beth has to deal with a failing business, a sick father and an illegitimate child she had with Danny (before they could get married and he was “killed” in prison). She’s fighting off advances from other gentlemen, firing people and keeping the boat afloat. It’s only when she starts to work for getting Danny a royal pardon for his crime that she meets Nicholas and recognizes Danny.

“I have discovered with advancing years that few things are entirely black or white, but more often different shades of grey. I can best sum it up, My Lord, by saying that it was an honour to have served Sir Nicholas Moncrieff and it has been a privilege to work with Mr.Cartwright. They are both oaks, even if they were planted in different forests. But then, m’lord, we all suffer in our different ways from being prisoners of birth”.

It’s all good until Danny is discovered by his arch-enemies and after a very interesting sub plot of the novel concerning JAPANESE KNOTWEED. It was a very good plot playing on the greed of people and the idea of making a quick buck. If something’s too good to be true, it more than likely is…

“I never advise friends to put money in anything,. said Danny. ‘It’s a no-win situation – if they make a profit they forget that it was you who recommended it, and if they make a loss they never stop reminding you. My only advise would be not to gamble what you can’t afford, and never to risk an amount that might cause you to lose a night’s sleep”

There is more going on so I’m not going to spoil it too much but Danny is exposed and him and Beth and Big Al are arrested and they are looking at jail time again..

Having just finished the story a few moments ago I can say it’s well worth reading! It’s got some great court room drama scenes that keep you on the edge wondering which way things will go. It’s a fantastic story about love, friendship, justice, etc.

I loved the Monroe lawyer from Scotland and his presence made me think that this is how people should behave more often: with Honour, with Honesty, with Trustworthiness.

“- ‘My lord, if a man cannot express his honestly held views in the Central Criminal Court, perhaps you can advise me where else he is free to state that which he believes to be the truth?”

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