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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cleverest Caper of Them All!
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...
Published on November 25, 2002 by sweetmolly

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The names were changed to protect his income
While I enjoy a good historical thriller, even one based on real people, but fictionalized (The Mistress of the Art of Death is one I really enjoyed), this one began to irk me once I did a little background reading on what actually happened. Before I begin the immolation, however, a few comments: assuming Crichton has not fudged any of the underlying information about...
Published on November 15, 2011 by Sten Ryason


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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cleverest Caper of Them All!, November 25, 2002
By 
sweetmolly (RICHMOND, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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.
-sweetmolly-Amazon Reviewer
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, February 13, 2007
Crichton's writing skills are truly amazing. After you read other books written by this famous author, you will not believe that this book has been written by him. The reason that I say this, is because when I started reading the first few pages, I thought I had ordered the wrong book. With an old English writing style, you will be amazed at how he can use various different writing styles, and still produce a fantastic book.

The story is exciting in its own right, but Crichton takes it to a whole new level.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read, April 13, 2007
By 
Nina M. Osier (Augusta, ME USA) - See all my reviews
Edward Pierce is a gentleman rogue, a man perfectly suited to Queen Victoria's England. He's as clever as Sherlock Holmes, but he puts his wits to work at committing crimes instead of solving them. In this time and place where railway travel is relatively new, he targets a London bank's regular shipments of gold bullion - by rail, and by sea - to Paris, and sets about planning and arranging a heist that will give him fabulous wealth for the rest of his days.

Michael Crichton's technothrillers, as much as I enjoy them, often suffer from wooden characters. This book most definitely does not. Pierce, the surprisingly (sometimes infuriatingly) engaging hero/villian, is beautifully written; and the cast of characters surrounding him comes colorfully alive, even for those who play relatively minor roles. The dialog written in dialect and the wealth of historical and cultural detail add texture, and the plot works well; but it's the characters that make this story such a pleasure to read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Retelling of the Legendary Caper, June 21, 2002
Drawing heavily from court records and testimony, Chrichton's novel of historical fiction recreates the ingenious planning and execution of perhaps the most famous crime in British history. It's a novel in a very loose sense of the word, since throughout the book, Chrichton stops the proceedings to explain Victorian social customs for several pages at a time. But this is not a complaint at all, for the details on dog fighting, rats, gender roles, fear of premature burial, chimney sweeps, tipping servants, the Crimean War, safecracking, and most importantly urbanization and railroads, are all integral to the crime, and fascinating historical tidbits in their own right.
Central to the entire crime is the understanding that in the 1855, there was no such thing as dynamite or other explosives, so safes really were impregnable without keys or unlimited to time to pick them. Thus, the robbery of the monthly gold shipment that traveled by rail to France to pay for the Crimean War was deemed inconceivable, as opening the safes required four keys which were held in three separate locations. However, along comes Edward Pierce, a safecracker and master con artist who wanted that gold. The book tells how using an incredible array of scams, assistants and associates, misdirection, boldness, and quick thinking, he obtains copies of the four keys and embarks on the theft of the century. Crichton does this is a fairly documentary style for the most part, however the dialogue amongst the criminals sparkles with period underworld slang (all of which he stops to explain).
The story is recounted with continual reference to the trial, so its clear from the get go that the plot was successful, yet somehow the plotters were caught. Even knowing this in advance, the suspense is maintained throughout as the plotters encounter unexpected difficulties, last minute roadblocks, and increased police attention. And despite this knowledge of the trial, the ultimate outcome is shocker. I can't say how closely Chrichton adhered to the facts of the plot, but the social context of mid-19th century England he puts it in is certainly well researched and accurate. Sure to please fans of of the David Mamet films House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, The Heist, and of course the classic George Hill movie, The Sting.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Planned Crime + Historical Perspective=Great Novel, September 27, 2003
By 
Alan Mills (Chicago, Illinois USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
When man first descended from the trees and walked upright, his average speed was 4 miles an hour. In 1800, a man on a horse could travel 10 miles an hour. Then, between 1815 and 1850, the steam engine and the train catapulted the average speed to 40 miles an hour, with a maximum speed of 70 miles an hour. Today, we find such speeds common place. But at the time, all was a complete mystery to ordinary people. For example, falling from a moving train was not generally understood to be fatal. people assumed that falling from a train was much like falling from a horse--it all depended on how you landed.
Crichton artfully weaves this type of historical perspective inot a riveting story about the greatest train robbery of all time--which never would have been tried had they understood what they were doing. But in this case, ignorance was bliss, and it worked, against all odds.
Not the Crichton you may be expecting...there is science, but it is the science of the 1800's; no cutting edge technology, unless you consider the invention of wax to make keys new technology--which it was; no exotic locales.
Instead, Crichton takes us back to England in the 1850's--at the end of the Crimean War, and less than a decade before the U.S. Civil War, and during the hey day of mass industrialization. Crichton does an excellent job of setting the stage and reminding us just where the roots of our current urban society lie, and just how recently those roots were first sunk into the rural past.
Having set the stage, Crichton weaves the history with a great crime novel. Taking advantage of wealth, social stratification, and even advanced technology (for the time), Crichton follows a criminal mastermind in his year long plot to steal 12 million pounds sterling, supposed to be used to pay French soldiers fighting Russia in the Crimean war.
Trains and safes had both just made their appearances. Fingerprints, combination locks, and explosives were still on the horizon. Breaking into a safe on a moving train was a then unthought of crime.
Of course, they were caught--Crichton lets us know right at the beginning that his source is the trial transcripts--but the ways, whys, and means are wholly unpredictable, and will keep you turning the pages right to the very end.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars he might not have made as much money- but he would've made a great History teacher, September 14, 2005
By 
Amazon Customer (Nashville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
As a History major (undergrad) and former high school history teacher, I marvel at Crichton's ability book after book to research a topic down to the bone then flesh it out in an utterly believable and compelling way. For this reason the Great Train Robbery is for me my favorite Crichton work, even though it may lack the polish of Jurassic Park or Congo or one of his more recent books.
TGTR takes us to 19th century London and gives us a plausible behind the scenes look both at the masterminding of this incredible train robbery, as well as life in general in 19th century London. So often history books give names, dates, connections, but leave one with the question, "Yes, but what was it like?" Crichton answers this better than any book I ever read on the Sheep Enclosure Act or most any other dry text. Some of it may be fanciful, but it certainly seemed as well supported as many another full blown history text.
At any rate, I highly recommend this book for any Crichton fan, master criminal fan, or interested history student. The main character, whose name escapes me, alone is a grand study and reminiscent of a larger than life character from a Hugo or Dumas novel. Very fascinating and rapidly moving.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating historical fiction, March 18, 1999
By A Customer
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smartly Planned; Titillating!, January 22, 2007
By 
An educational book of mid-1800s in London. Filled with puzzles to solve and problems to tackle, the main character skillfully handles them. The author throws you into a novel of adroitness and intelligence of how a difficult flash pull can be done. Things that you will never have thought of!! Very well-written, and fast paced.

And I learned a lot of stuff about 19th century London from this book that I wouldn't have from a boring textbook!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Historical Novel -- A Real Treat, June 9, 2007
By 
Thriller Lover (Las Vegas, Nevada) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
It's hard not to admire Michael Crichton. He has written novels that are not just entertaining, but educate the reader on a wide variety of scientific and historical subjects.

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY is a story about an elaborate theft, but it is also a novel that brings Victorian England alive. I knew very little about British life in the 1850s, and this novel taught me plenty. Crichton has done a massive amount of research for this book, and explains how the Victorians viewed death, industrialization, sexual relationships, poverty, crime, and a whole host of other issues.

This novel is ultimately quite entertaining, although the characterization is quite thin. This is a common Crichton problem -- he's a magnificent plotter, but his characters are usually two-dimensional, and are rarely memorable. The dialogue is also weak in spots. Chrichton uses a lot of British slang and dialect in this book. This is an understandable decision, but I was sometimes confused by the sheer amount of it. I almost wish a glossary was included.

Overall, though, these are only minor problems. THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY is a lot of fun, and is of particular interest to readers who enjoy history. It's a treat to read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of a Scam, November 26, 2005
Michael Crichton is known by most, and reviled by some, as an ardent crusader warning of the excesses of unrestrained science; a skeptic of the contemporary juggernaut---global warming.

In this book, Crichton eschews science to whip up a fictional adaptation of the crime of a century: The Great Train Robbery.

This book details the genesis to the execution of this daring theft by Edward Pierce, the socialite and criminal: from Pierce's hiring of the best criminal minds to the long periods of observation. All this done on a background which showed the ever-widening chasm between haves and haves-not.

Crichton's writing is short and precise, with most chapters hardly running over fives pages. This works well as the novel moves along individual events. The milieu of the times also provides for a greater appreciation of the act, as does his penchant to fast forward from the story to the future.

Even though there weren't many explicit passages on science, his description of Bernoulli's Law was simple and accurate. Science has really advanced since those times.

The Robbery suffers from some flaws. It lacks strong characters to back up Pierce.

Miriam and Mr. Harranby, two people essential to the story, are virtually nonexistent. Also, the trial pales in comparison to the rest of the book. Pierce's nonchalance irritates, while the Houdini act at the end is hard to swallow.

Finally, while I agree that crime might indeed pay and that most criminals are of superior intelligence, I believe Crichton undermines his point that poverty is not a source of crime. Focussing on the blue collar crime which this robbery was, we see that all of Pierce's partners were from the lower echelon of society. What does that say of his thesis?

But by far this is a wonderful read. Pick up the Great Train Robbery and have your attention stolen.
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The Great Train Robbery
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton (Hardcover - May 12, 1975)
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