Friday, April 25, 2008

50 Book Challenge #23: Prisoner of Birth

I got a review copy of this book from the publisher, which explains why I am reading something outside my usual lit fic and SF/F circles. With something like this, I like to go in with few preconceptions. All I knew about the author was that he had written a lot of similar books before and that he'd been to prison. I also try to stick to the Roger Ebert criteria for reviewing genre works: Is it good at what it's trying to do? Will a fan of the style enjoy it?

By those lights, this is probably a solid contribution to the popular mystery genre. It plays a lot like a Hollywood courtroom drama and the plot owes a great deal to The Count of Monte Cristo. The hero proposes to his love and then is cruelly framed for the murder of his best friend and brother-in-law-to-be. His fiancee testifies to his innocence but nobody believes her. His cellmate acts as a mentor and eventually he escapes, gaining a fortune through complex yet morally stainless means and using his position to bring down the man who sent him to prison. None of the characters are particularly complex; this is a straightforward story about noble working-class heroes and evil upper-class schemers who use secret societies to cover up their foul deeds. Comeuppance is assured, courtroom dramatics ensue, and everyone lives happily ever after. (I'm not spoiling anything; it's not that kind of book.) It's easy to imagine this being turned into a film; there are no extraneous plotlines or extended descriptive passages and things just move along steadily. My mother and grandparents are all great mystery fans and I will probably recommend this book to them. I don't think it would suit the Constant Readers of this blog particularly well, though.
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