In Victorian London, can Edward Pierce and his cronies pull off a train heist and get away with a fortune in gold bullion?
Like quite a few of my reads over the years, this book appeared on my radar courtesy of Kemper. We were discussing the Breaking Bad episode Dead Freight and he asked if I'd ever read The Great Train Robbery. I said I hadn't and promptly forgot about it for a couple years until I ran across the Great Train Robbery in the local used bookstore.
The Great Train Robbery is a gripping heist novel set in the 1850's. Crichton doesn't skimp on the Victoriana, either. The social climate and attitudes of the time are in full force, as is Victorian criminal slang. Critchton throws the reader into the deep end with his talk of bone lays, twirls, drums, and gammons.
As with most capers, the joy is in the planning and watching Pierce deal with getting key impressions, ferreting out key impressions, and dealing with setbacks along the way. Pierce proved to be quite a cracksman and would make Richard Stark's Parker smile with admiration, if such a thing were possible.
The way Crichton tells the story is masterful, alternating the story as it occurred with newspaper clippings from after the caper went off and the subsequent trial. It was excellent way to misdirect readers such as me. I thought I had things pegged pretty early on but Crichton surprised me at the end.
If I had to justify not giving this a five, I would mention that the characters were a bit weak, Pierce included. However, the story is entitled The Great Train Robbery, not An Examination of the Psyche of a Train Robber so some slack must be cut.
Four stars. Now I want to track down the movie version.