C J West

The End of Marking Time

""Written entirely in the first person the prose is delicate, direct and manipulative at times ..." "


Michael O'Connor is a career criminal who has spent years honing his burglary skills. He has become so skilled at his craft he can enter your home, watching and waiting until you fall asleep. His fence for credit cards turns him in to protect his own skin and Michael is plunged into the justice system. However, changes are afoot and before long the Supreme Court rules that incarceration is no longer the way to deal with criminals and releases 2 million prisoners onto Americas streets.

Crime soars and honest law-abiding citizens have to barricade themselves into their homes for their own safety. The new system isn't working either until Wendell Cummings proposes the idea of re-education. His methods are brutal, inhumane and violate virtually every right of the prisoner. The public are in favour of the new scheme as criminals now have something far more terrifying than jail to fear and crime levels drop to almost unprecedented lows.

O'Connor was comatose when all the changes went through and he is the last felon to be released into the re-education program. The story starts with him standing in front of a one way mirror telling his tale to unseen jurors who have a red and a green button to press. The green button will release him and the red button will seal his fate…

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The End of Marking Time is a deeply thought provoking tome which has excellent insights and a strong central message about the competencies of the prison system. O'Connor goes to jail with the usual fears of rape, beatings and general incarceration. Before he can enter into the jail he winds up in a coma, and upon awakening from the coma he finds that the world and especially the prison system has changed beyond recognition. I am sure that he as a criminal would sooner have the old system as the new is far more brutal than the old system. Written entirely in the first person the prose is delicate, direct and manipulative at times as you are given the offenders eye view of the re-education program. Emotions are drawn out by West as he forces you to empathise with and like O'Connor. He doesn't seem the worst criminal ever, he doesn't use violence or steal from the poor and his logical processes on the dynamics of his trade make for marvellous reading. He is a character who has the strength to carry the story effortlessly and his self-awareness and personal history are apparent at all times. I suspect he is deliberately clichéd as to be a stereotypical offender of the type do-gooders want to hug and give second to nineteenth chances to. Other characters such as Cummings, Charlotte, the odious Dr Blake, Nick and little Jonathan all add to the story in their own way but make no mistake this book is about Michael O'Connor and the justice system. Everybody else who features is simply a tool or device to make the story work. I loved this book and the way it made me root for someone who I knew I shouldn't like. The pace is steady as each little scenario is drawn out in turn, never frantic and never plodding, there is enough time to subliminally analyse each chapter with a final realisation coming as the book is laid down for the final time. The debate on the prison system and its effectiveness is neatly sidestepped by simply creating a new world order which will appall and delight readers depending on their personal point of view. If this is CJ West's idea of just punishment, then by crikey I bet his kids do as they are told. Should this book make it to Hollywood, then I urge West to hold out for an actor as talented as a young De Niro or Pacino to play the lead and then he could sit back and wait for the awards to come flooding in. Powerful, thought provoking and massively entertaining are the words I would use to best describe this book.

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