A Prisoner of Birth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 October, 2008, 12:00am

A Prisoner of Birth

by Jeffrey Archer

Macmillan, HK$105

It's been a tough decade for Jeffrey Archer. I don't refer to his prison sentence or the countless rumours surrounding his private life; I mean the decline in his writing. Some might argue it couldn't decline, but his early work featured smoothly wrought blockbusters that seem even more enjoyable after two chapters of Anne Enright's last novel. A Prisoner of Birth was welcomed as a comeback after several disappointments and Archer does seem to have bucked up. Borrowing the premise of The Count of Monte Cristo, our hero is Danny Cartwright, a 'gawd-help-us' Cockney what is wrongly imprisoned for murder; the culprits are four yuppies, slimy enough to go undercover as slugs. Luckily, Danny's cellmate is Nicholas Moncrieff, a wealthy aristocrat on the verge of release who just happens to be our hero's doppelganger. Add an etiquette lesson here, a dash of Single White Female there and Danny escapes when Moncrieff puts the dead into dead ringer. He then wreaks his revenge with a series of bizarre schemes: rare stamps, rare weeds and even a play. You'll need to suspend your disbelief, but you'll have fun if you do. As with Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, one suspects Archer is exacting his own revenge too. Long may it continue.