Following Michael Crichton's untimely death, I decided to complete my library with his works. The GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY was the only one missing and, I must say, although not the usual Science-Thriller Crichton had accustomed us to, it had the writer's signature iconoclastic approach to everything he wrote about.
Set in mid-19th century London, this novel is half historic travelogue through all strata of Victorian society and half an interesting roller-coaster ride on setting up and carrying through the infamous heist.
The period dialogue gave me trouble in more than one occasion at first but after a while you get used to it and you barely notice it. This is one of the early works of Crichton and although some of his flaws as a writer are present, so are most of his strengths: the secondary characters are barely fleshed out; on the other hand, his acute perception, solid research and multifocal vision does not pause before shattering long-held misconceptions and prejudices.
on December 16, 2013
This review is for the hardcover edition measuring 9 1/2 X 6 1/2 having 352 pages and no photos.
I would have liked to have seen photos of the principals as, in fact they WERE real people and did do these things, albeit perhaps not EXACTLY in the way the author has decided.
Normally I read ONLY nonfiction but accounts of the great train robbery of 1855 are few and far between and I thought that perhaps with his obvious writing skill and sticking as closely as possible to the known facts Mr Crichton might just 'fill out' the story and give it a little life.
I NEED NOT HAVE WORRIED!
This account is absolutely splendid and conflicts in no way with the facts of the case as I know it.
Sure, he has taken the liberty of putting words in their mouths but general knowledge of the principals and the egos involved make these words probably quite appropriate.
Long before their demise as a mode of public transportation in great popularity the railroads were seen as a novelty and somewhat revered for their ability to move people both quickly and cheaply across the country.
This mystery was smashed with the robbery of an astounding 12,000 pounds.....an amount quite large in those days but what piqued the public's interest was not just the amount, but the audacity of thieves to commit such a robbery and successfully evade capture.
Shades of Robin Hood.
For a nearly true true life adventure this book is an excellent read.
on June 5, 2004
The time is 1855 and the place is London. Edward Pierce, a master con artist, wants to hijack 12,000 pounds sterling that is being sent by rail to fund the Crimean War. It won't be easy. The money is locked in a safe, made triple-strong, with four keys, each key stored in a different location. All four keys must be found and copied without raising any suspicion. It's a task that would daunt all but the most capable. Fortunately, Pierce is more than up to the job. He's got several things going for him: a razor-sharp intelligence, nerves of steel, patience, cunning, and not least of all, his mysterious mistress, Miss Miriam. Pierce and his confederates spend a year working on their plans. But things have a habit of going awry at the damndest times. Can they pull it off? Maybe. Can they get away with it? Hmmm....
Michael Crichton has written a humdinger of a period suspense novel with telling touches that bring us right into the middle of the Victoria era. For instance, just finding a key in a Victorian living room could be a week-long search, given how cluttered the average living room was at that time. And train travel, still fairly new, was the object almost of worship. A train robbery was infinitely worse than, say, robbing a bank. Who would have the unmitigated gall to rob a train? Well, Pierce would, for one. And why would he commit such a dastardly crime? Because, as Pierce explained, as if talking to a three year old, he wanted the money.
As in his fiction books, Crichton's research into Victorian London and train travel is solid, and the book has a sense of unquestionable authenticity. One gets the feeling Crichton had a lot of fun writing it. We see a lot of Crichton himself in Pierce: his intelligence, his wit, his painstaking attention to detail. The book scores both as a good novel and well-researched social history. It's one of Crichton's best.
on March 25, 2003
In his earlier career as a writer, Michael Crichton's books were a mix of fiction and documentary. His later books are still based on actual facts of new scientifical development, but books like "The Andromeda strain" and "Eaters of the dead" read more like documentaries with Crichton's intelligents insights. "The great train robbery" is one of those earlier books.
With an accurate portrait of the victorian society in the half of the 19th century, Crichton tells the story of Edward Pierce and Robert Agar, the main duo of the band responsible for the robbery of the train that carried the gold destined to support the Crimean war. From the inicial plan, until the accomplished fact, in a relatively short book, Crichton was able to give the characters the dimension of the real people they were. This book is more entertaining given the fact that it is a true story, so there are no impossible plot twists, improbable situations and factual mistakes. Crichton did a good research and provided his readers with a nice book.
In a time when bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Ken Follett and even Michael Crichton appear to be suffering from an inspirational crisis, it's a good idea to get their earlier books and read them at the top of their career. "The great train robbery" is one of these interesting books.
on November 25, 2002
This true story set in Victorian London in 1855 is a beauty of a read. With Michael Crichton weaving his magic over the scene and Edward Pierce, mastermind and protagonist, we have an unbeatable combination. The author does wonders describing authentic period scenes and showing us the huge divide between the English middle class and the wretched poor in Victorian times.
Edward Pierce wants 12,000 pounds sterling that will be sent by rail to fund the Crimean War. The obstacles are huge. It takes four keys to get to and unlock the safe. This was before the days of nitroglycerine, so the safe could not be blown, and it was too heavy to carry away. All four keys are held by separate persons and must be found and copied. The thieves have to get the payload unseen off of a moving train. Mr. Pierce has a hazy background, presents himself as a wealthy traveling businessman with a fine home in London, a well-dressed gentleman with an appreciation of the finer things. As we get to know him better, we learn he has nerves of steel, a quick and clever wit, and is relentless planner with infinite patience. He is blessed with a mysterious mistress, Miriam, whose acting abilities could put Meryl Streep to shame. The suspense and tension as Pierce and his accomplice, Robert Algar, work for a solid year on their plan is riveting. Naturally, when the heist takes place, even the most careful plans have to change with unforeseen circumstances. Will they get away with it? Read it and see.
The author puts us in the skins of Victorian people of the time. For instance, the police department is only 25 years old. London citizens were accustomed to being very hands-on when a crime is committed. Not like today when one's first thought is to call the police. If a criminal was observed picking a pocket, there would likely be a great hue and cry by the nearest citizens and all would chase the thief until they caught him. Only then, would they call the police. A married woman was the "property" of her husband. This of course, is abominable for her human rights, but if she is caught say counterfeiting money, her husband goes to jail, not her. After all, he is responsible for his property.
"The Great Train Robbery" was made into a movie in the late '70s with Sean Connery as Mr. Pierce. One way or another, I am going to see it. This is a great read and a well-done social history of one of the most fascinating men of the age. Highly recommended.
on April 4, 2002
The Great Train Robbery follows an upper-class English man named Pierce as he plans, prepares, and executes an ingenious robbery scheme. Pierce uses his position in society to avoid suspicion while also utilizing connections with the lower class to find the perfect accomplices. His greatest asset is his understanding of human psychology, because it allows him to trick or persuade nearly everyone who stands in his way.
The story is written in documentary style, with references to the trial of Pierce and his accomplices from the very beginning. I was thoroughly convinced that it was a true story, though I now understand that it is only loosely based on fact. Chrichton does a great job of setting the scene by using the working class slang of Victorian England. He also gives us plenty of background information that pertains to the crime and the period in which it was committed. I was very impressed with this novel, and also with the reading of the audio version. The reader adjusted his voice and manner of speaking for each individual character, and added just the right amount of emotion to each part of the script.
on May 8, 2001
Crighton does a wonderful job transporting the reader to the 1800s London. The descriptions and the detail are flat out amazing. At some points, it seemed like Crighton himself lived in London during that time. Though immersed in tremendous detail, it so skillfully done that it does not bog down the reader. From the making of safes, to burial procedures, to the slums, and to escaping the most unpenetrable prison, the reader is bombarded with mesmerizing detail. In my opinion, this is the most captivating book ever written.
The detail alone would be worth twice the price of the book. The language, though initially confusing with bits of 1800 English, adds to the effect. Crighton yet again uses one of his main strengths - fluidity, to heighten this reading experience.
Finally, the plot itself is downright brilliant. A high class, educated man performs the most brilliant preparations for a mighty bank robbery. This book chronicles what the man does. The chapters where he plans out the taking of the keys is some of the most inventive writing ever.
This book has great language, superb detail, and an exciting, captivating, intriguing plot. I would recommend this to book to anyone and everyone.
on April 26, 2001
This story is based on real facts, but like Capote's "In Cold Blood" it is a novel. And an excellent one, too. The novel reminds us somehow of a report in a magazine or a newspaper written in several sequences and appearing over a certain period of time. Here we are right at the Victorian way of writing: Dickens used to write his novels this way. Stephen King has tried to revive this art several times, beginning with "The Green Mile". But Crichton did it in the genuine way. Not only did he write about the Victorians but he also tried to reflect their style.
He mixed reality and fiction in a very delicate way, so you have always the impression that everything is real in this story, even the dialogues the author could not find recorded. His research of the era was thorough, and so his characters and the setting are genuine. In addition he wrote a very suspensful story, not exactly a pageturner (thrillers had not been invented back then), but a very interesting and attractive book for modern people. The subject is timeless, though: How can I get at other people's money without being caught?
A very good book, indeed!
on November 19, 2000
The Great Train Robbery is one of the books that Michael Crichton wrote, and one of the best that I ever read. This fabulous book is about a Robbery on a train. It will be the greatest robbery in all times when Edward robbed a monthly London-to-Paris train, carrying gold bullion for the British Army in Crimea. To pull the trick off, a rich man who calls him-self Edward Pierce. Very little is known about Edward and he will pull the robbery off, not alone, but with 3 other companion, a screwsman called Robert Agar, Mr. Henry Flower and Elizabeth Trent. Robert is a friend of Edward, but has not seen him for 2 years. Screwsman are a specialist in working with keys. Mr. Henry knows Edward for 47 years, he admits that he has little knowledge about Edward... He has a problem, he has the location of 3 of the 4 keys of the safes and needs to find the other key. He dose, find the location of the 4 key and he meets a new helper on the way named Elizabeth Trent. One of the reasons I liked the book, The Great Train Robbery was because it explains the setting very well and in a way ease to understand. You also learn a little about a historical event that happened. The book really caches your attention is in the trials, at the very end after the master criminal Edward is caught. It caught my attention because I found out that Edward was absent of guiltiness after all he did their still was not enough proof that he had done it. I also thought that no one would forget what had happened and they would always talk about it, but it came out to be that every one forgot about every thing. I liked they way that the author changed what you thought would happen to the thing that you would never expect. I recommend this book for the people that have a lot of patient and that understand texts with a lot of details. Try to read it, because you will probably like it.
on March 18, 1999
This book is an exciting story told with masterful narration. It follows the undertaking of aristocratic robber Edward Pierce as he undertakes to repossess #12,000 in English gold bullion destined for the Crimean War. It is no easy task with the gold being under state-of-the-art lock and key. And not just one key, but four, all kept in different possession. It requires a master manipulator to get all of the pieces to fall into place. And that he is. Using his gang numbering around four or five at different times in the story, Pierce uses his knowledge of human nature against society to better his coffers. Crichton has done his research in this book, using terms, places, and events from Victorian England to recreate one of that era's most spectacular and audacious crime. This book, based upon a real event, is definitely an entertaining read, good for relaxing at home on a Sunday afternoon, for gaining knowledge about common mid-1800s England, or for passing the time on a...train.