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THE END OF MARKING TIME
By C. J. West
22 West Books, 2010 ($14.95)
Available in Trade pb, Kindle, and Nook formats.
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Michael O'Connor begins his life of crime at age ten, when he steals a can of peaches. His mother, to use the term loosely, abuses and neglects him in equal measure, and he hits the streets as a teenager. He becomes very good at his job, breaking into the homes of the wealthy, taking cash, jewelry, credit cards, and luxury cars, living well and turning a profit. His luck runs out when he picks out the wrong mark, invading the home of a district attorney. The man is not amused, and he has the resources to track him down and send him to prison. Ironically, a can of peaches leads to his downfall.
The police get their man, and Michael is tried, convicted, and given a five year prison sentence. Before he arrives at the designated facility, fate steps in, he is injured, and when he comes out of his coma four years have passed and the world is a very different place. He is told that he is no longer a prisoner. Drastic changes swept through the criminal justice system while he slept, and prisons no longer exist. He is free to go, but he soon finds that freedom has a different meaning in this brave new world. He and all other criminals are monitored around the clock through an ankle bracelet linked to a mysterious black box in the home that is provided for them, and surveillance cameras are everywhere.
He is assigned a team of specialists to help him with his "rehabilitation." He is accustomed to getting by through his use of charm and/or his ability to bluff his way through most situations, but he learns quickly and painfully that he's got to get with the program or suffer serious consequences. Going back to a life of crime is no longer an option. The money and jewelry he stashed in a safety deposit box before he got caught is worthless now. The government allows each convict $40,000 a year in credit, and everything is paid for by a thumb scan. The terms seem fairly reasonable, but Michael struggles against the rules, regulations, and restraints again and again. Each act of rebellion has a heavy price, but the boy can't help it, and he keeps trying to find a way to thwart the system.
The book has been described as a cross between 1984 and Prison Break, but it is more than that. It is a thriller, a mystery, a puzzle. It is an examination of the justice system, whether career criminals can be rehabilitated, whether the death penalty should be used, and if so, under what circumstances. It makes readers think about how much liberty and privacy they would be willing to give up in order to live without fear of crime. In the end, it is a character study of one young man who has been cast into a Brave New World without a guide book, trying to figure out how to play a game of life or death when he can't read the directions.
West has created an amazing website for the book: http://22wb.com/mystery.htm
Each character has his or her own Face Book page, and their photos are so true to life you'd think they are real people... Perhaps they even resemble people C.J. knows personally. There is a map of the town of West Roxbury, photos of the places mentioned in the book, and much, much more.
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