HAVING SERVED ONLY half of his four-year sentence for perjury, Jefrey Archer was released from prison last July. In celebration, Macmillan Audio Books is releasing freshly abridged titles. This one charts the rise and rise of an amiable cockney barrow boy whose patter charms Whitechapel shoppers into buying his fruit and veg. During the First World War, after his father is killed at Passchendaele, young Charlie Trumper signs up. Archer excels at mire en seine – the front in France where survival averaged seventeen days, with a tot of rum before the charge to the barbed wire. After Charlie’s fearless friend Private Tommy Prescott taunts their captain, Guy Trentham, for cowardice, the captain surreptitiously kills Tommy with a single bullet as the three are returning on their stomachs across no-man’s-land. Thus begins a lifelong vendetta between evil Trenthams and good Trumpers. Callous seduction, betrayals and suicide are all depicted without apparent emotion. Yet auctions are rendered vivid, even nail-biting. With humour thin on the ground, I enjoyed Charlie’s joke when, during the Second World War, Churchill appoints him Minister for Food. Charlie declines the offer to make him a brigadier: ‘I might need to insult a general.’ Martin Jarvis’s reading is first class.