A book, and a new one at that ... What is Old is Gold coming to? Isnt this blog supposed to be the last bastion of the bygone era? Well, as my favorite lawyer Perry Mason would have put it,"Your Honor, we propose to connect it up [to the relevant facts] later." I have just finished reading this marvelous thriller and need to gush about it - so please bear with me for a while and I promise to connect it up with true Old-is-Gold stuff.
A Prisoner of Birth is a novel about a man wrongfully accused of murder, and his quest for revenge against the men who framed him. It may not be a new story but Archer gives it a completely fresh perspective. In the true revenge-drama-style there are dastardly villains, good scoundrels (its not an oxymoron in the context of this book), tense courtroom drama and thrilling twists that keep you on the edge throughout. In short, all the ingredients that make for an absorbing read.
The story is inspired by Alexandre Dumas's classic romance The Count of Monte Cristo. For those of you not familiar with the story, The Count of Monte Cristo is the tale of Edmund Dantès who is falsely accused of being a sympathiser of Napolean Bonaparte after the emperor's exile in 1815. Dantès is convicted of treason and imprisoned in the island prison of Château d'If. In prison he is befriended by the Italian priest Abbé Faria who becomes Dantès' friend, teacher and guide, and eventually facilitates Dantès' escape. Once out of prison, Dantès finds Faria's treasure at the island of Monte Cristo and then proceeds to execute elaborate revenge on his accusers.
Though inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo, A Prisoner of Birth is more than just a modern adaptation of the classic. The falsely imprisoned protagonist here is looking for more than revenge - he wants justice. The story of his seemingly impossible quest makes a book that is impossible to put down before you read all 501 pages of it!
Danny Cartwright is your average Joe - young, good-looking, likeable, gainfully employed as a garage mechanic at the Wilson Garage and in line to take over the management on Mr. Wilson's retirement. When the novel opens, you find him on his knees to his pregnant girlfriend Beth Wilson. To avoid any misunderstandings, let me clarify that this is happening at an upmarket restaurant and our hero's intentions are entirely honorable. Beth agrees to make an honest man of Danny and the two go over for a celebration drink at a pub. They meet up there with Bernie Wilson who is Danny's best mate and Beth's brother.
Drinking at the same pub are TV star Lawrence Davenport, rising lawyer Spencer Craig, hot-shot property dealer Gerald Payne and wealthy aristocrat Toby Mortimer. They are the Musketeers who swore that they were one for all and all for one (an allusion to another Dumas classic The Three Musketeers), and are together to celebrate Gerald's 30th birthday. Craig is struck by Beth's beauty and his interest in her takes the form of offensive comments. One thing leads to another and Danny and Bernie are drawn into a street brawl with the four Musketeers. The brawl ends with Bernie dead of knife wounds sustained in the fight. The next thing you know - Danny is on trial for Bernie's murder and being defended by rookie lawyer Alex Redmayne.
How did this happen? As the trial proceeds you find that the Musketeers have cleverly banded together to frame poor Danny. The dust jacket makes it clear that Danny is found guilty and imprisoned. But, as the tense courtroom drama unfolds, you hope that Danny will prove his innocence. In due course, a broken-hearted Danny is sentenced to a 22-year prison term.
Danny's cell-mates in prison are Nick Moncrieff - an aristocratic ex-army officer - and Big Al. Nick takes a benevolent interest in Danny and becomes his Abbé Faria. With Nick's help the illiterate, proletarian Danny becomes not just literate but positively erudite, and picks up the ways of the aristocracy. In a plot twist reminiscent of The Count... Danny is able to use Nick's death to escape from prison. Once on the outside, Danny has to gather the resources and the strategy to avenge himself on the Musketeers who have ruined his life.
Though the story is fairly predictable, Danny's journey to revenge and eventual redemption keep you absorbed right to the end. There are several memorable characters: Beth Wilson who never wavers in her love for Danny and her faith in his eventual deliverance; the Musketeers who use their unity (one for all and all for one) and intellect to victimise an honest man, turning the code of the legendary Musketeers upside down; Nick Moncrieff - the quixotic Abbé Faria; Big Al - the lovable jailbird; Alex Redmayne - the rookie attorney haunted by his inability to help Danny; and several others who cant be mentioned without plot spoilers.
If you havent read it yet, dont wait too long. With A Prisoner of Birth you can be sure of several hours of reading pleasure!
Those of you who havent yet read The Count of Monte Cristo, you can read it online for free, here. According to imdb, the book was made into films in several languages over the years with the most recent adaptation (2002) starring Jim Caviezel as Edmund Dantès and Richard Harris as Abbé Faria.
And here's the promised filmy connection:
Jeevan Mrityu (1970) starring Dharmendra and Rakhee, was an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. Dharmendra plays Ashok Tandon, a bank manager in love with Deepa (Raakhee). On their wedding-day, Ashok is arrested for robbing his bank. He is speedily convicted on these false charges and spends several years behind bars. On coming out, Ashok finds that Deepa has left town and his devastated mother died while he was in prison. The still honest Ashok does a good turn for the wealthy Raja Ranvir Singh (Bipin Gupta) who becomes his Abbé Faria. Ranvir Singh gives him a new identity and the means to seek his vengeance.
Rakhee and Dharmendra looked great and did a great job as Dantès and Mercedès. The conniving villains were played by Ajit, Kanhaiyalal and Ramesh Deo. There were some nice songs too - Jhil mil sitaron ka aangan hoga and Zamaane mein aji. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, there were generous helpings of sentiment, adventure, romance and thrills.