A Prisoner of Birth
  • A Prisoner of Birth
  • A Prisoner of Birth

A Prisoner of Birth

4.1 148
by Jeffrey Archer

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Danny Cartwright and Spencer Craig never should have met. One evening, Danny, an East End cockney who works as a garage mechanic, takes his fianceé up to the West End to celebrate their engagement. He crosses the path of Spencer Craig, a West End barrister posed to be the youngest Queen’s Counsel of his generation.

A few hours later Danny is arrested

…  See more details below


Danny Cartwright and Spencer Craig never should have met. One evening, Danny, an East End cockney who works as a garage mechanic, takes his fianceé up to the West End to celebrate their engagement. He crosses the path of Spencer Craig, a West End barrister posed to be the youngest Queen’s Counsel of his generation.

A few hours later Danny is arrested for murder and later is sentenced to twenty-two years in prison, thanks to irrefutable testimony from Spencer, the prosecution's main witness. 

Danny spends the next few years in a high-security prison while Spencer Craig’s career as a lawyer goes straight up. All the while Danny plans to escape and wreak his revenge.

Thus begins Jeffrey Archer’s poignant novel of deception, hatred and vengeance, in which only one of them can finally triumph while the other will spend the rest of his days in jail.  But which one will triumph? This suspenseful novel takes the listener through so many twists and turns that no one will guess the ending, even the most ardent of Archer’s many, many fans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A compelling read.” —Newsday

“Archer plots with skill, and keeps you turning the pages.” —The Boston Globe

“Thoroughly enjoyable.” —Publishers Weekly

“Dynamite…plot twists and a slam-bang finale.” —The Washington Post

A compelling read.
The Boston Globe
Archer plots with skill, and keeps you turning the pages.
The Washington Post
Dynamite…plot twists and a slam-bang finale.
Danny Cartwright is doomed by circumstance. After a quartet of cynical Cambridge friends decide to make him the patsy for a murder one of them had committed, illiterate Danny is tried, convicted, and sentenced to 22 years at hellish Belmarsh Prison. Mind-tormenting incarceration gives him ample opportunity to polish his reading skills and, more central to the plot, his taste for revenge.
Patrick Anderson
Readers who stick with this 500-page novel will eventually decide to ignore its improbabilities and focus on whether Danny can get out of the mess. Of course, anyone with half a brain knows how this morality play will turn out, but Archer tosses in various plot twists and a slam-bang final courtroom scene that will leave his fans exhausted but satisfied.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Though Archer's new novel is a porridge that mushes The Count of Monte Cristo together with The Prince and the Pauper, Roger Allam gives an award-worthy performance in this crisply paced production. Most challenging is that the main character thinks like East Ender Danny, but often speaks like the nobleman Nick. Allam slides gracefully between the two accents. He also performs the many voices of an unwieldy cast of lawyers, judges, Swiss bankers, guards, police officers, a bartender, a house cleaner and a soap star actor. Sometimes, Allam takes some shortcuts, such as giving all the judges sniffy voices, but he delights in individualizing the better drawn minor characters like Big Al, a former Scottish soldier, and Larry Hunsucker, a Texas oilman and philatelist. A bonus interview reveals little about Archer, except for his spending 300 hours on a draft. Simultaneous release with the St. Martin's hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 14). (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Colorful, bestselling novelist Archer has written a modern spin on Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. Garage mechanic Danny Cartwright and his sweetheart Beth, joined by her brother, Bernie, celebrate their engagement at a posh West End night spot. Beth is insulted by several drunken toffs, and a fight ensues; Bernie is fatally stabbed, and Danny takes the fall because the toffs have fabricated a cover story. He is convicted and serves time in Belmarsh prison, where Archer himself served part of a sentence for perjury. Danny's cell mate is the aristocratic Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, who just happens to resemble Danny and teaches him to talk with a posh accent and comport himself in the style of an English gentleman. Danny manages to escape from Belmarsh and seeks revenge on his accusers in a manner that is somewhat reminiscent of the protagonists in Archer's early novel Kane and Abel. Noted actor Roger Allam brings professionalism to his narration, with accents developed where necessary but not always fully. The interview with Archer is an interesting finish to the book and showcases audio production in a way that a print copy cannot. Recommended for large public libraries with a high circulation of Archer's work. [Macmillan Audio also has two versions of A Prisoner of Birth available: 13 CDs. unabridged. 16½ hrs. 2008. ISBN 9781427202833, 9781427203052]
—David Faucheux

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St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt

A Prisoner of Birth

By Jeffrey Archer

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Jeffrey Archer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3449-7


"Not guilty."

Danny Cartwright could feel his legs trembling as they sometimes did before the first round of a boxing match he knew he was going to lose. The associate recorded the plea on the indictment and, looking up at Danny, said, "You can sit down."

Danny collapsed onto the little chair in the center of the dock, relieved that the first round was over. He looked up at the referee, who was seated on the far side of the courtroom in a high-backed green leather chair that had the appearance of a throne. In front of him was a long oak bench littered with case papers in ring binders, and a notebook opened at a blank page. Mr. Justice Sackville looked across at Danny, his expression revealing neither approval nor disapproval. He removed a pair of half-moon spectacles from the end of his nose and said in an authoritative voice, "Bring in the jury."

While they all waited for the twelve men and women to appear, Danny tried to take in the unfamiliar sights and sounds of court number four at the Old Bailey. He looked across at the two men who were seated at either end of what he'd been told was counsel's bench. His young advocate, Alex Redmayne, looked up and gave him a friendly smile, but the older man at the other end of the bench, whom Mr. Redmayne always referred to as prosecution counsel, never once glanced in his direction.

Danny transferred his gaze up into the public gallery. His parents were seated in the front row. His father's burly tattooed arms were resting on the balcony railing, while his mother's head remained bowed. She raised her eyes occasionally to glance down at her only son.

It had taken several months for the case of The Crown versus Daniel Arthur Cartwright finally to reach the Old Bailey. It seemed to Danny that once the law became involved, everything happened in slow motion. And then suddenly, without warning, the door in the far corner of the courtroom opened and the usher reappeared. He was followed by seven men and five women who had been selected to decide his fate. They filed into the jury box and sat in their unallocated places—six in the front row, six behind them; strangers with nothing more in common than the lottery of selection.

Once they had settled, the associate rose from his place to address them. "Members of the jury," he began. "The defendant, Daniel Arthur Cartwright, stands before you charged on one count of murder. To that count he has pleaded not guilty. Your charge therefore is to listen to the evidence and decide whether he be guilty or no."


Mr. Justice Sackville glanced down at the bench below him. "Mr. Pearson, you may open the case for the Crown."

A short, rotund man rose slowly from the counsel's bench. Mr. Arnold Pearson QC opened the thick file that rested on a lectern in front of him. He touched his well-worn wig, almost as if he were checking to make sure he'd remembered to put it on, then tugged on the lapels of his gown; a routine that hadn't changed for the past thirty years.

"If it please your lordship," he began in a slow, ponderous manner, "I appear for the Crown in this case, while my learned friend"—he glanced to check the name on the sheet of paper in front of him—"Mr. Alex Redmayne, appears for the defense. The case before your lordship is one of murder. The cold-blooded and calculated murder of Mr. Bernard Henry Wilson."

In the public gallery, the parents of the victim sat in the far corner of the back row. Mr. Wilson looked down at Danny, unable to mask the disappointment in his eyes. Mrs. Wilson stared blankly in front of her, white-faced, not unlike a mourner attending a funeral. Although the tragic events surrounding the death of Bernie Wilson had irrevocably changed the lives of two East End families who had been close friends for several generations, it had hardly caused a ripple beyond a dozen streets surrounding Bacon Road in Bow.

"During the course of this trial, you will learn how the defendant," continued Pearson, waving a hand in the direction of the dock without bothering even to glance at Danny, "lured Mr. Wilson to a public house in Chelsea on the night of Saturday, September eighteenth, 1999, where he carried out this brutal and premeditated murder. He had earlier taken Mr. Wilson's sister"—once again he checked the file in front of him—"Elizabeth, to Lucio's restaurant in Fulham Road. The court will learn that Cartwright made a proposal of marriage to Miss Wilson after she had revealed that she was pregnant. He then called her brother, Mr. Bernard Wilson, on his mobile phone and invited him to join them at the Dunlop Arms, a public house at the back of Hambledon Terrace, Chelsea, so that they could all celebrate.

"Miss Wilson has already made a written statement that she had never visited this public house before, although Cartwright clearly knew it well, which the Crown will suggest was because he had selected it for one purpose and one purpose only: its back door opens on to a quiet alleyway, an ideal location for someone with murderous intent; a murder that Cartwright would later blame on a complete stranger who just happened to be a customer at the Dunlop Arms that night."

Danny stared down at Mr. Pearson. How could he possibly know what had happened that night when he wasn't even there? But Danny wasn't too worried. After all, Mr. Redmayne had assured him that his side of the story would be presented during the trial and he mustn't be too anxious if everything appeared bleak while the Crown was presenting its case. Despite his barrister's repeated assurances, two things did worry Danny: Alex Redmayne wasn't much older than he was, and had also warned him that this was only his second case as leader.

"But unfortunately for Cartwright," continued Pearson, "the other four customers who were in the Dunlop Arms that night tell a different story, a story which has not only proved consistent, but which has also been corroborated by the barman on duty at the time. The Crown will present all five as witnesses, and they will tell you that they overheard a dispute between the two men, who were later seen to leave by the rear entrance of the bar after Cartwright had said, 'Then why don't we go outside and sort it out?' All five of them saw Cartwright leave by the back door, followed by Bernard Wilson and his sister Elizabeth, who was clearly in an agitated state. Moments later, a scream was heard. Mr. Spencer Craig, one of the customers, left his companions and ran out into the alley, where he found Cartwright holding Mr. Wilson by the throat, while repeatedly thrusting a knife into his chest.

"Mr. Craig immediately dialed 999 on his mobile phone. The time of that call, m'lord, and the conversation that took place were logged and recorded at Belgravia police station. A few minutes later, two police officers arrived on the scene and found Cartwright kneeling over Mr. Wilson's body, with the knife in his hand—a knife that he must have picked up from the bar, because Dunlop Arms is engraved on the handle."

Alex Redmayne wrote down Pearson's words.

"Members of the jury," continued Pearson, once again tugging at his lapels, "every murderer has to have a motive, and in this case we need look no further than the first recorded slaying, of Abel by Cain, to establish that motive: envy, greed and ambition were the sordid ingredients that, when combined, provoked Cartwright to remove the one rival who stood in his path.

"Members of the jury, both Cartwright and Mr. Wilson worked at Wilson's garage in Mile End Road. The garage is owned and managed by Mr. George Wilson, the deceased's father, who had planned to retire at the end of the year, when he intended to hand over the business to his only son, Bernard. Mr. George Wilson has made a written statement to this effect, which has been agreed by the defense, so we shall not be calling him as a witness.

"Members of the jury, you will discover during this trial that the two young men had a long history of rivalry and antagonism which stretched back to their schooldays. But with Bernard Wilson out of the way, Cartwright planned to marry the boss's daughter and take over the thriving business himself.

"However, everything did not go as Cartwright planned, and when he was arrested, he tried to place the blame on an innocent bystander, the same man who had run out into the alley to see what had caused Miss Wilson to scream. But unfortunately for Cartwright, it was not part of his plan that there would be four other people who were present throughout the entire episode." Pearson smiled at the jury. "Members of the jury, once you have heard their testimony, you will be left in no doubt that Daniel Cartwright is guilty of the heinous crime of murder." He turned to the judge. "That concludes the prosecution opening for the Crown, m'lord." He tugged his lapels once more before adding, "With your permission I shall call my first witness." Mr. Justice Sackville nodded, and Pearson said in a firm voice, "I call Mr. Spencer Craig."

Danny Cartwright looked to his right and watched as an usher at the back of the courtroom opened a door, stepped out into the corridor and bellowed, "Mr. Spencer Craig!" A moment later, a tall man, not much older than Danny, dressed in a blue pinstriped suit, white shirt and mauve tie, entered the courtroom. How different he looked from when they'd first met.

Danny hadn't seen Spencer Craig during the past six months, but not a day had passed when he hadn't visualized him clearly. He stared at the man defiantly, but Craig didn't even glance in Danny's direction—it was as if he didn't exist.

Craig walked across the courtroom like a man who knew exactly where he was going. When he stepped into the witness box, he immediately picked up the Bible and delivered the oath without once looking at the card the usher held up in front of him. Mr. Pearson smiled at his principal witness, before glancing down at the questions he had spent the past month preparing.

"Is your name Spencer Craig?"

"Yes, sir," he replied.

"And do you reside at forty-three Hambledon Terrace, London SW3?"

"I do, sir."

"And what is your profession?" asked Mr. Pearson, as if he didn't know.

"I am a barrister at law."

"And your chosen field?"

"Criminal justice."

"So you are well acquainted with the crime of murder?"

"Unfortunately I am, sir."

"I should now like to take you back to the evening of September eighteenth, last year, when you and a group of friends were enjoying a drink at the Dunlop Arms in Hambledon Terrace. Perhaps you could take us through exactly what happened that night."

"My friends and I were celebrating Gerald's thirtieth birthday—"

"Gerald?" interrupted Pearson.

"Gerald Payne," said Craig. "He's an old friend from my days at Cambridge. We were spending a convivial evening together, enjoying a bottle of wine."

Alex Redmayne made a note—he needed to know how many bottles.

Danny wanted to ask what the word "convivial" meant.

"But sadly it didn't end up being a convivial evening," prompted Pearson.

"Far from it," replied Craig, still not even glancing in Danny's direction.

"Please tell the court what happened next," said Pearson, looking down at his notes.

Craig turned to face the jury for the first time. "We were, as I said, enjoying a glass of wine in celebration of Gerald's birthday, when I became aware of raised voices. I turned and saw a man, who was seated at a table in the far corner of the room with a young lady."

"Do you see that man in the courtroom now?" asked Pearson.

"Yes," replied Craig, pointing in the direction of the dock.

"What happened next?"

"He immediately jumped up," continued Craig, "and began shouting and jabbing his finger at another man, who remained seated. I heard one of them say: 'If you think I'm gonna call you guv when you take over from my old man, you can forget it.' The young lady was trying to calm him down. I was about to turn back to my friends—after all, the quarrel was nothing to do with me—when the defendant shouted, 'Then why don't we go outside and sort it out?' I assumed they were joking, but then the man who had spoken the words grabbed a knife from the end of the bar—"

"Let me stop you there, Mr. Craig. You saw the defendant pick up a knife from the bar?" asked Pearson.

"Yes, I did."

"And then what happened?"

"He marched off in the direction of the back door, which surprised me."

"Why did it surprise you?"

"Because the Dunlop Arms is my local, and I had never seen the man before."

"I'm not sure I'm following you, Mr. Craig," said Pearson, who was following his every word.

"The rear exit is out of sight if you're sitting in that corner of the room, but he seemed to know exactly where he was going."

"Ah, I understand," said Pearson. "Please continue."

"A moment later the other man got up and chased after the defendant, with the young lady following close behind. I wouldn't have given the matter another thought, but moments later we all heard a scream."

"A scream?" repeated Pearson. "What kind of scream?"

"A high-pitched, woman's scream," replied Craig.

"And what did you do?"

"I immediately left my friends and ran into the alley in case the woman was in any danger."

"And was she?"

"No, sir. She was screaming at the defendant, begging him to stop."

"Stop what?" asked Pearson.

"Attacking the other man."

"They were fighting?"

"Yes, sir. The man I'd earlier seen jabbing a finger and shouting now had the other chap pinned up against the wall, with his forearm pressed against his throat." Craig turned to the jury and raised his left arm to demonstrate the position.

"And was Mr. Wilson trying to defend himself?" asked Pearson.

"As best he could, but the defendant was thrusting a knife into the man's chest, again and again."

"What did you do next?" asked Pearson quietly.

"I phoned the emergency services, and they assured me that they would send police and an ambulance immediately."

"Did they say anything else?" asked Pearson, looking down at his notes.

"Yes," replied Craig. "They told me under no circumstances to approach the man with the knife, but to return to the bar and wait until the police arrived." He paused. "I carried out those instructions to the letter."

"How did your friends react when you went back into the bar and told them what you had seen?"

"They wanted to go outside and see if they could help, but I told them what the police had advised and that I also thought it might be wise in the circumstances for them to go home."

"In the circumstances?"

"I was the only person who had witnessed the whole incident and I didn't want them to be in any danger should the man with the knife return to the bar."

"Very commendable," said Pearson.

The judge frowned at the prosecuting counsel. Alex Redmayne continued to take notes.

"How long did you have to wait before the police arrived?"

"It was only a matter of moments before I heard a siren, and a few minutes later a plain-clothes detective entered the bar through the back door. He produced his badge and introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Fuller. He informed me that the victim was on his way to the nearest hospital."

"What happened next?"

"I made a full statement, and then DS Fuller told me I could go home."

"And did you?"

"Yes, I returned to my house, which is only about a hundred yards from the Dunlop Arms, and went to bed, but I couldn't sleep."

Alex Redmayne wrote down the words: about a hundred yards.

"Understandably," said Pearson.

The judge frowned a second time.

"So I got up, went to my study and wrote down everything that had taken place earlier that evening."

"Why did you do that, Mr. Craig, when you had already given a statement to the police?"

"My experience of standing where you are, Mr. Pearson, has made me aware that evidence presented in the witness box is often patchy, even inaccurate, by the time a trial takes place several months after a crime has been committed."

"Quite so," said Pearson, turning another page of his file. "When did you learn that Daniel Cartwright had been charged with the murder of Bernard Wilson?"

"I read the details in the Evening Standard the following Monday. It reported that Mr. Wilson had died on his way to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and that Cartwright had been charged with his murder."

"And did you regard that as the end of the matter, as far as your personal involvement was concerned?"

"Yes, although I knew that I would be called as a witness in any forthcoming trial, should Cartwright decide to plead not guilty."


Excerpted from A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer. Copyright © 2008 Jeffrey Archer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Prisoner of Birth 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 147 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Danny Cartwright proposes to his beloved Beth Wilson who accepts. The pair and her brother Bernie, who is also his best friend, celebrate. Four drunks (Spencer Craig, Lawrence Davenport, Gerald Payne, and Toby Mortimer), who call themselves the Musketeers insult the trio. A fight occurs and one of the quartet stabs Bernie killing him. The four Musketeers swear they witnessed Danny kill the man though he claims otherwise. Since they are elite Cambridge University graduates and successful professionals who speak and dress like aristocratic gentlemen while he is an illiterate slum scum, he is charged with the homicide as ¿clothing¿ makes the man. His attorney the best one he can obtain with little money is slaughtered by the prosecutor. Danny is convicted to serve twenty-two years at maximum-security Belmarsh Prison. --- In prison Danny shares a cell with Nicholas Moncrieff, who teaches him to read Dumas. When someone kills Moncrieff, Danny pretends to be Nicholas and escapes his incarceration. His goals are to destroy the Musketeers and prove his innocence. --- The fun in this crime thriller is finding the numerous references to The Count of Monte Cristo as Jeffrey Archer pays homage to Alexander Dumas. The story line is fast-paced from the moment of the first confrontation and never slows down as Danny works his revenge. Although the key players including the hero are never fully developed beyond their link to the original novel, readers will enjoy this entertaining modernization of the Dumas classic. --- Harriet Klausner
catloverMJ More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I ever read by Jeffrey Archer and it was great. A real page turner and hard to put down. I would highly recommend reading this. I plan on reading all his books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jeffrey Archer's latest novel is essentially a modern remake of Alexandre Dumas' The Count Of Monte Cristo. While the latter's tale was set in 18th-century France at the time when a certain Napoleon Bonaparte was in exile, Prisoner Of Birth takes place in modernday London. Apart from the difference of some 200 years, the plots of the two novels barely differ. In this book, a young man by the name of Danny Cartwright, who was about to marry his childhood sweetheart, suddenly finds himself accused of a crime he did not commit. He is then put behind bars where he receives some education from a cellmate. Danny finds a way to escape. He then amasses a huge fortune, and a title to boot, and plots revenge against those who brought about his earlier downfall. The fast-moving plot and simple language make the novel a definite pageturner. But despite Archer's attempts to adapt his story to modern times, some parts of the plot might seem rather far-etched and unbelievable, especially the prison escape. Archer manages to inject some originality only towards the later part of the story, choosing to digress from Dumas' tragic end for the Count of Monte Cristo. Those who have not read the original classic may appreciate this. But fans of the original may find that this copycat modern version is just not up to par.
stone277 More than 1 year ago
Despite of the fact that you have the idea that how it is going to end, this is a real page turner....I just could not put it down.....i loved it, and one of those books which i never wanted to end...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not Since Cane and Able have I read such a style. If you enjoyed Cane and Able you must read A Prisoner of Birth. With the story line much similar to that of The Count of Monte Cristo with the switching of identity and such, you find yourself looking forward to Danny's just revenge. This is a fast page turner.
lavahart More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. Flowed really well
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Typical of Jeffrey Archer, keeps you trying to out guess him. Nice twists and turns in the plot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We've been awaiting Archer's true return for a long, long time! Grisham creates characters which lock you in within the first 10 pages, but Archer did it way before Grisham. Great characterization and a good storyline are the makings of a truly good read. You won't be able to put this work down. Read and enjoy and then pass it along to a friend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another gripping tale! Read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have yet to be disappointed in one of Archer's books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Books_Cats More than 1 year ago
This is a very enjoyable book. Nicely drawn characters, good plot, interesting twists, but the audio version read by Roger Allam elevates it to another level. As many have said before Roger Allam could read the phone book and keep you captivated. He has enormous talent for not only accents and dialects, but he acts the parts, he doesn't just read them. Given that he is a great actor that comes as no surprise, but it makes listening to the book all the more enjoyable for the audience. He clearly distinguishes between each character and gives them life. I would also recommend Jeffrey Archer's Only Time Will Tell (the first of the Clifton Chronicles) which is a great story . . . but get the audio version read by Roger Allam!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of Jeffrey Archer, you don't want to miss this one!
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RoFl More than 1 year ago
Wow. What a gripping story. Kept me reading straight through. Made me buy more books by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jeffrey Archer knows so well how to engage the reader. It's almost as if you personally know the characters. From beginning to end, I couldn't wait to get back to a private place to finish this book. Great read!
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