Michael Crichton is one of my all- time favorite fiction writers. My wife and I recently just got library cards, so I figured it would be a great time to check out one of the Michael Crichton books I have been longing to read.
The great train robbery was Crichton’s fourth book. It was published in 1975.
What I love about Crichton’s writing is that he did so much prep work and research for any of the books that he wrote. This book is set in London, 1856, during the height of the Victorian era. Crichton does a great job of explaining how those that lived in that era viewed things. The lead character of the book is a man named Edward Pierce; an extraordinary fellow, wealthy and came from a family of privilege. Crichton notes that many of the educated men at that time, also dabbled in petty crimes and hard vices.
Edward Pierce was always drawn to crime and he was a master of planning, having the means to fund the necessary people to pull off his plans.
In Victorian London trains where the main mode of transportation. Banks sent their money on trains all the time. Edward Pierce was well aware of that fact. He knew the people that he needed to make his plan a success. One of those people was a screwsman, they were a specialist in keys and safe- breaking. Pierce approached a man named Agar to be his screwsman and did not give any detail as to what he his master plan was.
Pierce also needed access to the keys, that would open the safe that the gold was kept in. He invited Henry Flower, the man responsible for the transportation of the gold over to his house for a dinner with prestigious fellows. Pierce gets Henry to brag about the security measures, that the bank has in place for the transporting of the gold. In the conversation, Henry Fowler gives away not only how many keys there are for the safes, but the location and who has them. Critical information.
Pierce than spends three months time collecting all the keys through various methods of trickery and by using accomplices.
One of his accomplice’s is a snakesman: one who is small and able to break into and out of buildings with ease. This is how he obtains some of the keys for the safe. He also employs a woman to go to the company that makes the bank’s safe to find out; everything she can about it, and the methods that the safe company uses to prevent theft.
Pierce was a clever man, not giving away even to his accomplices what he was after. Two safes full of gold! The book is fascinating as it tells how he was able to pull off a great heist. One person did squeal, but Pierce as they would say in that era
put him in lavender (Which means he had him killed.)
In the end, Pierce gets his gold! He does get caught after awhile, but is to savvy and has to many connections for a jail to hold him. One of his accomplices breaks him out of the prison and he rides off into the sunset, set for life with all that gold.
I loved the book, it was very entertaining and engaging. I would highly recommend it.