The Great Train Robbery Reviewed

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton in an easter basket

For my faithful followers, I sincerely apologize for this month’s book club discussion delay. I’ve had a crazy few weeks. Between helping my husband run a booth at FanX and recovering from an illness that left me feeling queasy, light-headed, and dizzy all week, I didn’t have much time to write.

Great train robbery by Michael CricthtonBut just because I didn’t get around to this post immediately doesn’t mean I didn’t like this month’s book.

I found Michael Cricton’s The Great Train Robbery a fun, fast-paced adventure suitable for most readers. I will give you a heads up that it does have some violence and some sexual content, but the book does not go into explicit detail. The rougher content stays true to the characters and the setting, and it wouldn’t be out of place in a PG-13 movie.

If you are in the mood for a classic heist book, I suggest giving it a go. If you don’t know whether you want to commit to all 266 pages, skim my review below for a few more details.

The Adventure Picks Up Quickly

After reading the slow (yet steadily engaging) Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for last month’s book club, I really wanted something light and adventurous that would keep me on my feet. The Great Train Robbery did an excellent job at throwing me into the middle of things to spark my interest while still taking the time to build the world and explain the characters.

As with so many of my favorite books, The Great Train Robbery followed a fascinating arc. It presented problems and challenges for the characters to overcome. The crew had to face their low points and demonstrate their skills to pursue their goals. And the book finished with a thrilling climax and satisfying dénouement, or resolution.

Essentially, the book followed the pacing of a train. It blew whistles to attract attention, gathered steam and momentum, slowed over hills and sped up during dips in the plot. As it reached its final destination, it came to a precise stop.

You Sneak a Peek at Their Lives

I love books with flawed characters and rich histories. I enjoy predicting how certain characters will behave based on their history and personality.

But in The Great Train Robbery, the book is too short to go in depth with many of the characters. The heist setup and the action take up most of the space in the short novel, so we don’t see much of the characters themselves.

However, this doesn’t mean that the characters are cardboard cutouts or placeholders. Michael Crichton does an excellent job at giving readers short flashes of insight in the character. These small hints about his past or her skills or their shortcomings give us just enough information to understand the characters, and then your brain can easily fill in the rest.

Watch Out for the Jargon

Michael Crichton throws in a lot of jargon that applies specifically to the criminal world. Positions like “screwsman,” “snakesman,” “crushers,” “blowers,” and “jacks” were new and exciting to read about. When characters tossed these terms around, I felt like I was getting an inside peek into the criminal world and could see how people operated on the other side of the law.

But while some terms felt natural and satisfying, other bits of jargon took a little bit of adjustment. Sometimes Crichton would mention a term and explain what it meant immediately, while other times a term would pop up in casual conversation and Crichton wouldn’t explain it until two or three chapters later. I found myself quickly forgetting what some phrases meant while confusing new bits of jargon with old ones.

I’m sure if I had paid more attention, I could have kept all the definitions straight. But to keep my confusion from bogging down the plot, I simply learned to accept some words as meaningless filler and go with the flow.

It Left Me Wanting More

The Great Train Robbery was a fast, exciting, and thrilling read. I nearly flew through the pages and finished the novel in a few days’ time (some of those days spent running the booth at FanX).

But alas! As with many smaller, shorter books, it did leave me feeling a bit wishful for more. I would have loved to find out what happened with the money, or I would have gobbled up any hints at possible exploits to come in future books.

Of course, I realize that the book would have lost much of its power if it had continued past it’s concise ending, so I guess I’ll have to be satisfied that it ended when it did.

A Few Questions to Discuss

If you plan to host a book club discussion of your own based on the book, feel free to use some of these questions to get the ball rolling:

  • What do you think happened to the money?
  • If you could plan a heist similar to the one in the book, what would you do?
  • Did you find any sections or phrases particularly confusing?
  • Have you seen the movie based on the same event? How do the book and movie compare?

And of course, if you have any questions you’d like to add, or if you want to join in the conversation, feel free to add a comment below.

Here’s Next Month’s Book

I understand that this month we’re starting the book club book in the middle of the month, so it would be unfair of me to ask everyone to read a lengthy novel in just a few short weeks. Fortunately, the next discussion will start May 6, just two days before Mother’s Day. So in honor of the holiday (and mothers everywhere), I’m proposing we talk about my favorite children’s book of all time.

Love You Forever Robert MunschLove You Forever by Robert Munsch is an adorably illustrated picture book you can read to your kids. You can buy the paperback on Amazon for about $5, though used copies sell for as little as $.01 plus the cost of shipping. You can probably even find the book in just about any used book store, and I’m sure the Internet has the whole book available from cover to cover if you do a quick Google search.

And to make this upcoming book club discussion truly special, feel free to read some of your own childhood favorites and be prepared to share your memories about them in the comments.