Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Stars: 4 / 5
The Great Train Robbery is a 1975 historical novel written by Michael Crichton. It is a fictionalized version of the Great Gold Robbery of 1855 - a massive gold heist that took place on a train during the Victorian-era England on May 22 1855.
The book doesn’t start with the robbery details alone but with an elaborate introduction on why this particular robbery was called "The Great Train Robbery" when the gold stolen was considerably small amount and also other robberies were much efficiently done around the same. A very interesting read it was. The book is split into five parts.
The First Part "Preparation" introduces us to Edward Pierce and his shady past, his reputation as a master cracksman, still posing as a gentleman in his upper-class acquaintances, but clearly showing us that he was well into an elaborate plan to pull off the greatest theft. With his partners in crime - Robert Agar aka The Screwsman (a specialist in keys and safe-breaking), Clean Willy aka The Snakesman (one who is adept at wriggling through small spaces) and Barlow (a thug with a scar across his forehead and serves as Pierce's cabby). Ironically Clean Willy infact dealt with always shady activities and the mysterious Miss Williams - together prep to the finest detail with regards to where the keys are that will help them unlock the safes where the gold bullions are being kept and transported. Mr. Henry Fowler - the general manager of the prosperous banking firm Huddleston & Bradford - becomes an unwitting accomplice in Pierce's plan, without his knowledge.
The Second Part "Keys" deals with Edward Pierce acquiring all the four keys he need to unlock the safes. In this process he courts the daughter of Mr. Edgar Trent - Miss Elizabeth Trent - the president of the bank; provides "fresh" meat to Mr. Henry Fowler; goes to the extent of hiring a skipper; staging a Carriage Fakement; snaffle a leopard; performs a Jolly Gaff and even acts like a drunken sod.
The Third Part "Delays and Difficulties" highlights the hurdles Mr. Pierce faces in executing his plan to steal the gold in the strongboxes - escaping clutches of Miss Elizabeth Trent; figuring our why the strongboxes were removed; avoiding the miltonians that were setup on him because of loud mouth Clean Willy; Give the Scotland Yard a different path to look at; minor hurdles that he resolves with a corpse - albeit undead still.
The Fourth Part "The Great Train Robbery" that takes place on May 1855 covers how Pierce and his associates orchestrate the robbery that they have been planning for a year now. Although the heist was a success, it wasn’t east for Pierce for he ended up looking like a dead-man covered in soot by the time the act was done.
The Fifth Part "Arrest and Trial" gives a finale to the heist with the arrest and trail. One would think that such a well-orchestrated heist would not be caught. Apparently one is wrong to think so. Almost a year and a half after the heist, the robbers get caught and put to trial.
Very interesting to learn so much about the Victorian-era England - the fashion of growing whiskers coming back; introduction of cigarettes; how the Victorian decoration of homes is filled with frills and tassels; traveling using dogcarts, tandems, broughams .and omnibuses; the sporting of dog fights and dog ratting; the beginnings of women not getting marries until very late and being well-educated; high-end prostitution that takes place in open air, formation of the Scotland Yard and its progression; the recognition of "white-collar crimes" although to a lesser extent. In contrast we get the glimpse of the beginnings of the slums in modern London that kept growing and growing.
The author through the narration gives a lot of history beyond every incident happens during the time that leads to the heist or every step that Edward Pierce takes in this elaborate robbery. That filled a lot of gaps and kept one glued to the plot. Amazing to see how Edward Pierce looks for every single detail and step to carry on this heist yet at times he becomes a little lax or neglect that perhaps causes his downfall in the end. Or perhaps from a very low-key link that he ignored against his gut feeling that brought him to trial.
Certainly a very interesting read of a great robbery that would form basis for many fictional stories and movies for years to come.
2) Author uses the phrase "A place for everything, and everything in its place" in the book. The first time I heard this phrase was in one of the Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode "Undaunted Mettle".
4) There is mention of the hanging of Emma Barnes in the book which I originally thought fictional. But indeed it was fictional. There was never a person named Emma Barnes hanged in Newgate Prison, England.