Archer is sublimely unaware of his own absurdity. He seems surprised to discover that jails are full of criminals, many of whom take drugs, and that the food isn't quite up to the standards of his favorite London restaurant. After his first shower, he complains that Belmarsh prison doesn't have "quite the same facilities" as "my apartment on the Albert Embankment." Who would have guessed it? During his glory days, invitations to Archer's parties were famous for specifying that Krug champagne would be served, and even in jail he can't resist the allure of brand-names. "I start off with something called Coco Pops," he writes of one breakfast. "Not bad, but it's still almost impossible to beat good old Kellogg's cornflakes."
Convicted of perjury in 2001, Archer, a bestselling novelist (Sons of Fortune) and member of the British House of Lords, penned this memoir about his first three weeks in prison, focusing on his daily life, the prisoners' lives and the state of the British penal system. An old hand at plotting novels and developing stories, Archer moves his memoir at a captivating pace, a credit to his storytelling skills considering the book's characters are in their cells for 22 hours a day. Deftly using mundane hour logs, he relates the slow passage of time without falling into the trap of recounting events minute by minute. Knowing that his story as a wealthy, educated celebrity with high-powered attorneys pales in comparison, Archer focuses on the sad, strange and even silly tales of his fellow inmates, a cast of hardened criminals and smalltime crooks. Concentrating on others also serves to help Archer avoid extended fits of melodramatic and self-serving prose (as when he compares himself to Oscar Wilde), which occur when he writes about his own case. But balancing this small flaw with his humorous descriptions of prison food and listening to a cricket match that seems as long as his four-year sentence adds a needed bit of humanity to this controversial politician. Of course, some of Archer's observations and the inmates' tales can't be taken as gospel since Archer is a convicted perjurer and his secondhand stories come from the mouths of murderers and other felons. But those caveats do not override the strong narrative and good writing that make this memoir an intriguing and engaging version of the often-trite prison journal. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Best-selling novelist Archer (Sons of Fortune; The Eleventh Commandment) presents his diary of the 22 days he spent in 2001 in HMP Belmarsh, a London prison to which he was sent after a perjury conviction. Belmarsh was the first stopping point for Archer, who was sentenced to four years. Unlike the brutal Nevada prison system depicted by Jimmy Lerner in You Got Nothing Coming, Belmarsh is a relatively civilized place. Archer describes being treated as a celebrity by other prisoners, who seek his autograph and advice, sometimes waiting at the door to his cell. The book is organized chronologically and goes into great detail about the food, living conditions, and plight of fellow inmates. Archer clearly empathizes with the inmates, describing how they ended up with their lengthy sentences, criticizing the lack of rehabilitation opportunities, and noting the impact of drugs. Still, this is less a manifesto for penal reform than a grim travelog, which is especially interesting as a visit to a foreign prison system. Recommended for large collections, especially where Archer's fiction is popular.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, a.k.a. Prisoner #FF8282, offers his view of life in the slammer after serving the first three weeks of a four-year sentence. Archer, once Conservative candidate for Mayor of London and author of many a popular potboiler (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.), scarcely refers to the offense that took him from his Albert Embankment home to HMP Belmarsh, London's high-security prison, along with murderers, drug-dealers, and a football hooligan. He does not mention that his sentence was for perjury, forgery, and obstruction of justice. We hear more about the nasty judge who punished him, though, and he's mightily affronted about his treatment. The accommodations, the bedding, and the food are viewed with disdain and our diarist subsists largely on bottled water, digestive biscuits, and Spam. Clearly, he's a man of elevated sensibilities and, as he would have it, fellow cons generally forswear dirty words in deference to his Lordship. Indeed, according to his report, most hold him in warm esteem. Prisoners, identified by name and crime ("Tony [marijuana only], Billy [murder]," and so forth), they ask for autographs and advice and, in turn, offer protection, extra eats, and doleful tales of stealing, dealing, and buggery. Still a concerned citizen, our Peer notes that "there are going to be some speeches I will have to make should I ever return to the House of Lords." Meanwhile, he knows whom to address. "Are you still paying attention, Home Secretary?" When not concerned with prison procedures or politics outside (or filled with cricket gibberish), this is about the author's persecution. It's prefaced, naturally, by Ernest William Henley's "Invictus." Archer may indeedbe captain of his soul, but mastery of his fate, for a bit, was at the command of one Mr. Justice Potts. Be on notice: Archer is a known recidivist. He will write again.
Praise for A Prison Diary, Vol. 1:
"A tale that is not only important but true."
The Washington Post
"The finest thing that he's ever written...riveting."
Independent on Sunday (UK)