I am familiar with the story of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas but have never read the book; thus, this review of Tim Green's modern day version of that classic work will make no comparisons of the relative virtues of the two novels although the obvious differences between them deserve a brief comment. This is a much shorter and less complex work than Dumas' book, which is well over 1000 pages in length. This difference combined with its modern day setting in upstate New York will undoubtedly make it much more attractive to today's typical reader of action oriented psychological thrillers. In summary, Green does not attempt to recreate a modern day version of that classic work but rather utilizes the essence of the adventures of Dumas' character to weave an intriguing tale of betrayal and how the victim decided to EXACT REVENGE. Each section of the book begins with a quotation from THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO - taken together they serve both to pay the proper credit to Dumas' for his masterpiece and foreshadow the action which is about to unfold. In summary, as the titles of these sections indicate - this is book about BETRAYAL, ESCAPE, ASCENSION and REVENGE.
This is the story of Raymond White, written in the intensity and with the introspection that a first person narrative allows. The opening lines are "there was a time when people wished that they were me. The only boundaries I had were the limits of my imagination." Raymond had been a highly successful NY attorney, a self-made success about to be nominated for political office and hoping to marry the beautiful woman with whom he was deeply in love. Following the conclusion of a very important deal, he agreed to secretly deliver a letter of unknown contents from a dying Congressman to a local woman in upstate New York. This simple act resulted in his BETRAYAL, his conviction for a murder which he did not commit, and the loss of all he held dear - his father (who died while he was in prison), his job, his girlfriend and for a while his hope for the future. We meet White while he is still in prison - twenty years after his 1985 trial he has stayed alive by committing acts which keep him in solitary confinement and away from the dangers posed by his fellow prisoners.
Suddenly, in another seemingly random event White saves an old inmate named Lester Cole. In gratitude, Cole gradually overcomes White's distrust and skepticism and convinces White that he can in fact not only survive but achieve the impossible, ESCAPE from the supposedly escape-proof Auburn NYS maximum-security prison in which they are incarcerated. Lester also teaches White his three rules of survival at Auburn. The third and most important is "EXACT REVENGE". "If you don't do it, you'll be a professional victim. You exact it and it's exact. Not just a reaction, but planned out. Precise. It needs to send a message." Yes, the double entendre of the title is intentional.
In addition to the hope that Cole's plan offers for potential escape, Cole also eventually comes to trust Raymond enough to confide to him that he has a hidden cache of wealth from his exploits. These have the potential to provide the means for Raymond's establishment of a new identity and his ASCENSION to a position of power which will enable him to achieve the REVENGE which he so desperately desires to inflict on the villains of twenty years ago.
This is a well-constructed story, taut and spare and with an intriguing subplot regarding Raymond's partially Indian heritage. There are also a few shocking twists as the story progresses. The author Tim Green is intimately familiar with upstate NY and is a member of the NYS Bar and his knowledge adds realistic detail to the story. After my enjoyment of THE LETTER OF THE LAW and THE FOURTH PERIMETER, I was terribly disappointed by his one star novel THE FIFTH ANGEL. Thus, I am very pleased that his latest two books, which continue to examine the themes which formed the basis of that book (i.e., the achievement of justice and retribution outside the legal system), have been much more enjoyable and philosophically consistent.
Despite my praise and the fact that the story captivated me, I did not rate it five stars for several reasons, all of which I freely admit are a matter of personal taste. First, taken as a whole the series of coincidences which combined to allow Raymond to create his new identity strained my credibility even while creating a fascinating story. Second, Raymond's desire to exact a full measure of vengeance before he could move forward with that new life and enjoy his good fortune was understandable but very unsettling to me. Third, Green's vision of humanity as revealed in Raymond's acts of revenge, while definitely less dark than that of Dennis Lehane (who is a much better author than Green), still detracts quite a bit from my enjoyment of his work. Thus, for me the conclusion is made somewhat bittersweet by the knowledge of how Raymond arrived there. Nevertheless, this is not only a good story but also has provides the material to form the basis for an interesting philosophical discussion of the interplay of the concepts of revenge and justice.