I came to The Prisoner somewhat late in life. I was well into my thirties, and (as is the case with many of my fondest discoveries) I stumbled upon the mind-bending sixties spy drama quite by accident. In its infinite wisdom, the local PBS station had decided to air the entire run of the series in the space of two weeks, and I happened to be an insomniac. And so it was that I was inducted (or perhaps abducted is a better word) to the weird and wonderful ultra-planned-community-slash-prison that is The Village.
Although the original series was fairly short-lived, it remains a cult favorite to this day -- thanks in part to the fans who kept the series alive in the underground public imagination, and especially to the likes of Andrew Cartmel whose new novel The Prisoner: Miss Freedom (Powys Media, 2008) thrillingly brings the series back to life. Of course, those in the know would expect little less than a masterwork from Cartmel, whose work as a script editor for Doctor Who led to some of the most far-out episodes of that series, and this, his latest work, lives up to and perhaps exceeds Cartmel's reputation.
From the beginning, the reader is catapulted into the nightmarish world of The Village, and the opening strains of The Prisoner theme song are all but audible as the narrative moves forward. The premise this time around is that a serial killer has arrived in The Village, and only Number Six knows the full extent of his vicious past. Add to that an attempt on the part of parties unknown to rescue Number Six, the sudden appearance of a beautiful new female inmate known only as Number 666, a tango contest, and Number Six's participation in a creative writing class, and you'll start to get a sense of the tangled web Cartmel has woven.
Yet to simply say that Miss Freedom is a taut and thrilling spy novel only scratches the surface. What shines through most clearly in this novel is Cartmel's fine-tuned dry wit. A master of cunning juxtaposition, Cartmel frequently manages to fire off sentences whose apparent contradictions and playful punning reveal nothing short of a Pynchonesque sense of the sheer absurdity of life. For example: "It is the most extreme and totalitarian regime. They reduce human beings to mere numbers. I suggest we send agent 59/06 to put paid to their plans." Or this one: "The mission was breathlessly imminent, and since Granger's military experience had thoughtlessly failed to provide him with jump experience, it was imperative to go on a crash program." A "crash-course" in parachuting, hey? Clearly a sublimely twisted mind is at work here -- or at least a mind that is capable of appreciating the sublimely twisted world of words in which we live.
Without a doubt, The Prisoner: Miss Freedom is exactly what die-hard fans of the show have been waiting for-- a witty, fun, terrifying romp through the streets of the Village with Rover in hot pursuit. Cartmel is a masterful storyteller, and his dry humor keeps the story percolating through plot twist after plot twist. Thanks to him and Powys media,The Prisoner is back and better than ever!