Michael Crichton Essay - Crichton, (John) Michael

Crichton, (John) Michael

Crichton, (John) Michael 1942–

Crichton is an American novelist, physician, and practising research scientist. Best known for his "science-nonfiction" novels The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man, Crichton has also written several mystery novels under the pseudonym John Lange. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

Michael Crichton constructs his novels with such a knowing hand for the requirements of summertime escapist reading that someday I expect to find that an enterprising bookstore has started to market them as a package deal, complete with hammock and a pitcher of frozen daiquiris. A Crichton novel is always entertaining enough to pass a pleasantly idle hour, and if you lose it or someone swipes it, you're not out that much….

A suspenseful plot that strains our credulity just beyond the breaking point, a few raffish characters who keep our interest, enough background information to indicate that the author has given the narrative his personal attention, and there you have it. The makings of an enjoyable summer afternoon, rather like watching Chester Morris in an old Boston Blackie movie. If all of this sounds patronizing, you don't know how fond I am of hammocks, frozen daiquiris and Chester Morris in old Boston Blackie movies. (p. 4)

Peter Andrews, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 22, 1975.

I've never read so didactic a crime story, or one that so studiously set out to be entertaining. "The Great Train Robbery" is stuffed with little essays and digressions on Victorian trains, slang, technology, burial customs—even a gratuitous summary of the Sepoy Rebellion. The material on the life of Victorian crime seems to have been drawn from Kellow Chesney's admirable recent study "The Anti-Society," in which one can also find an account of the actual crime which, with many a baroque embellishment, Crichton has translated into fiction. This is a charming, diverting summer tale that will surely be translated into yet another medium. (p. 88)

Peter S. Prescott, in Newsweek (copyright 1975 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June 23, 1975.

[The Great Train Robbery] happily contributes to the current revival of British imperial style. In Sherlock Holmes reprints, The Great Victorian Collection and innumerable biographies, Victoria Regina rides again. For this intricate mystery, her very nation moves to life. The vowel sounds and alley reeks, the technological detail and social lacunae—all are here, ornamenting a tale based on the celebrated 1850 heist….

Crichton, venturing outside sci-fi (The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man), again proves a skillful researcher and popularizer. Drawing from such scholars as Henry Mayhew, a bygone chronicler of the criminal subculture, he wittily lances the pomposities of 19th century England, when material and moral progress seemed inseparable. (p. K4)

Michael Demarest, in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), July 14, 1975.

The Great Train Robbery … is something of a departure for Michael Crichton, whose previous novels have included The Andromeda Strain and a variety of pseudonymous thrillers. This is the novelization of an actual 1855 heist of gold bullion in England, and while Crichton evokes the character and the setting extremely well, his extended annotation of the latter does not admit to significant sustained suspense. Edward Pierce was something of an anomaly for his time: an aristocratic and wealthy thief in an era when it was supposed poverty bred crime. Pierce has his eye on the train that departs London once a month with pay for British troops fighting (badly) in Russia. His schemes are ingenious and detailed, involving the theft of various well-secured keys, prison breaks, a faked decaying corpse, some austere romancing, and planning—ever more planning. Unbearable suspense the book may not have, but I found the whole affair completely fascinating. (p. 309)

Allen J. Hubin, in The Armchair Detective (copyright © 1975 by Allen J. Hubin), Vol. 8, No. 4, August, 1975.

"The Great Train Robbery" … is a non-book by an unskilled writer, and archetypal "summer reading." It's actually a mechanical toy, in which the cogs are more or less cleverly fitted together to give the illusion, however imperfect, of human action. In this ballet mécanique, we are asked not only to suspend disbelief but to overlook a mass of incongruities made necessary by the exigencies of the plot. (pp. 89-90)

[The] author has a very shaky grasp of the real common—and elevated—usage of the period (or the present), to say nothing of Victorian habit and custom…. To read "The Great Train Robbery" with enjoyment through [the] cataclysm of gaffes, one must be wholly unaware of the real world. Not, of course, a serious deterrent to most. (p. 90)

L. E. Sissman, in The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), August 4, 1975.