A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer is a modern twist on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas played out in a courtroom battle. An innocent but illiterate man of uncouth appearance from London’s east end, Danny Cartwright, finds himself framed for a crime he did not commit by a group of rich and influential Cambridge educated gentlemen consisting of the soap television actor Lawrence Davenport, the youngest partner of a rising property development company Gerald Payne, Toby Mortimer and the cunning up-and-coming barrister Spencer Craig. His fiancée who was witness to the crime of her brother being assaulted is not even believed when she provides her testimony in court as Danny’s barrister, Alex Redmayne, is very young and inexperienced and his formidable opponent, who alleges Danny is the murderer as his fingerprints were on the murder weapon, is the well-respected barrister who is line to be made Queen’s Counsel. He has little chance of being believed as the group against him outshines him in credibility.
Danny Cartwright is the victim of choosing the wrong place and the wrong time to propose to his pregnant girlfriend Beth. When he is unjustly sentenced for the murder of his girlfriend’s brother and his best friend Bernie, he is placed in an opportune cell which enables him to make new friends who aid him to clear his name once they realise he truly is telling the truth when he says he is innocent. Making good use of his jail time to cultivate his appearance and make himself literate and knowledgeable of society etiquette through aristocratic cellmate Sir Nicholas Moncrieffe, when sheer circumstance offers him means to take revenge, having a friend in the warden Jenkins and in Albert Crann, the hospital orderly, assists him to find a solution to escaping Belmarsh, a prison from where no inmate has ever escaped. Not content with his escape and living under an assumed name, he plots a grandiose scheme to bring about the downfall of those who caused his initial misfortune. As he schemes his revenge plans, several people who become his friends after his escape unwittingly help him to outsmart and turn the tables on his foes.
Written by an author who writes convincingly of English trial system and prison life, the dramatic use of plot twists and the character transformation of the protagonist made the book compelling reading. Despite it just retelling the original Dumas tale set in the modern world with the repentance side of it kept under wraps, it still keeps you turning the pages.