The Accused: A Play, by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

Lord Jeffery Archer has long been called a master storyteller, no matter what he chooses to write. While I have devoured many of his novels and short stories, this was the first of his stage plays that I have read, which ended up being quite entertaining. Dr. Patrick Sherwood stands accused of killing his wife, Elizabeth. There is much evidence that is presented by the prosecution, including an alleged affair with one of his nurses. However, while the evidence seems strong, the defence is not prepared to let it stand without being refuted. Dr. Sherwood is a respected cardio surgeon and has access to many medications, including the one that may have caused his wife’s death. Additionally, one cannot discount that the potassium chloride might have come from a household item. As both sides present their evidence, the jury must wait to deliver a verdict. By Act Three, it’s time for a verdict to be rendered, which offers the audience a chance to participate in the proceedings. Based on their vote, a verdict is delivered and the fallout ensues. A wonderful play that will keep the reader (or, one could suppose, the audience member) enthralled to the very end. Guilty or Innocent, YOU decide!

Archer is a master with words and is able to pull the reader in from the early stages. While the story is best told as a stage play, even reading this script does not dampen the action and the well-developed story that comes to pass over three acts. Archer uses not only some key asides to open each day of the trial, as seen between the legal minds, but also a wonderful to and fro in the direct testimony and cross-examination. Archer develops his characters through their delivery of evidence and the narrative embedded in their descriptive words. The play is wonderfully entertaining and the format forces the reader/audience member to pay close attention so that they might choose the fate of Dr. Sherwood in the latter stages. It reminds me of a play m y father wrote and had published years ago, though his had more of a humorous mockery of a certain fairy tale. Still, the ‘two-pronged ending’ leaves the audience entertained, no matter what happens and permits an interesting alternate ending, dependent only on the gut feeling of those watching. I’ll have to find more of Archer’s stage work and enjoy it soon.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for such a great play. Yet another form of writing at which you excel!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: