The Great Train Robbery entertains and informs

Man in top hat watches a steam-drawntrain
The dust jacket of The Great Train Robbery tells part of the novel’s story.

In The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton’s masterfully blurs fact and fiction as he did in The Andromeda Strain.

This time Crichton takes readers to 1855 London, a teeming urban center where the immensely rich often live just across the street from the pathetically poor.

Edward Pierce, a man of unknown antecedents and unsurpassed effrontery, plans to steal the gold bullion being shipped from London to the continent to pay the British Army fighting in Crimea.

Pierce is a meticulous researcher, though his methodologies would not have been well regarded at Oxford or Cambridge.

To secure the four keys needed to open the two safes in which the bullion is transported, Pierce not only spends hour observing and timing the activities of railway employees, but also courts the daughter of one of the key holders and springs a noted cat-burglar from Newgate Prison.

Crichton laces the dialogue with the argot of London’s criminal class, declining to translate much of it, thereby intensifying the impression that he’s recording exactly what the thieves said.

Crichton surrounds the plot with vital trivia about Victorian England’s socioeconomic conditions, architecture, and burial practices.

Readers will close the novel better informed about nineteenth century history and very well entertained.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. 266 p.
1975 bestseller #8. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The U[tterly] P[reposterous] Trail

The U.P. Trail is a romantic tale of the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific. Zane Grey weaves all the traditional western cliches into his boy-meets-girl story.

Beautiful Allie Lee, headed east to a father she never knew, is the sole survivor of an Indian massacre . Handsome UP surveyor Warren Neale finds her. When she recovers from the trauma, they fall in love.

Henchmen of her  late mother’s gambler boyfriend, Durade, kidnap Allie.

Sioux capure her from the henchmen.

Allie escapes.

Meanwhile, Neale has lost his job after losing his temper with profiteer Allison Lee. Neale and his cowboy pard, Red, are degenerating in Benton, a temporary railroad town.

Allie and Neale are reunited.

Neale get his job back.

Durade gets Allie again.

She escapes.

They are reunited.

Allison Lee turns out to be  Allie’s father. He takes her east, decides he can’t stand her.

She escapes.

Allie and Neale are reunited.

I’ve may have left out a few “she escapes, they are reunited” bits, but you get the idea.

Grey has a keen eye for detail and I-was-there understanding of what happened, but the hackneyed plot and cardboard characters — the bad guys actually wear black hats — make this novel enjoyable only by the most enthusiastic Zane Grey fan.

The U.P. Trail
by Zane Grey
Grosset & Dunlap, 1918
409 pages
1918 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #4684
My grade: C-
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni