The Great Train Robbery

( 56 )


In teeming Victorian London, where lavish wealth and appalling poverty live side by side, Edward Pierce charms the most prominent of the well-to-do as he cunningly orchestrates the crime of the century. Who would suspect that a gentleman of breeding could mastermind the daring theft of a fortune in gold? Who could predict the consequences of making the extraordinary robbery aboard the pride of England's industrial era, the mighty steam locomotive? Based on fact, as lively as legend, and studded with all the ...
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The Great Train Robbery

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In teeming Victorian London, where lavish wealth and appalling poverty live side by side, Edward Pierce charms the most prominent of the well-to-do as he cunningly orchestrates the crime of the century. Who would suspect that a gentleman of breeding could mastermind the daring theft of a fortune in gold? Who could predict the consequences of making the extraordinary robbery aboard the pride of England's industrial era, the mighty steam locomotive? Based on fact, as lively as legend, and studded with all the suspense and style of a modern fiction master, here is a classic caper novel set a decade before the age of dynamite--yet nonetheless explosive....
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A nineteenth-century version of The Sting...Crichton fascinates us."-- The New, York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804171281
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/11/2014
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 154,758
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton has sold over 200 million books, which have been translated into thirty-eight languages; thirteen of his books have been made into films. Also known as a filmmaker and the creator of ER, he remains the only writer to have had the number one book, movie, and TV show simultaneously. At the time of his death in 2008, Crichton was well into the writing of Micro; Richard Preston was selected to complete the novel.

Richard Preston is the internationally bestselling author of eight books, including The Hot Zone and The Wild Trees. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He lives with his wife and three children near Princeton, New Jersey.


Michael Crichton's oeuvre is so vivid and varied that it hard to believe everything sprang from the mind of a single writer. There's the dino-movie franchise and merchandising behemoth Jurassic Park; the long-running, top-rated TV series ER, which Crichton created; and sci-fi tales so cinematic a few were filmed more than once. He's even had a dinosaur named after him.

Ironically, for someone who is credited with selling over 150 million books, Crichton initially avoided writing because he didn't think he would make a living at it. So he turned to medical school instead, graduating with an M.D. from Harvard in 1969. The budding doctor had already written one award-winning novel pseudonymically (1968's A Case of Need) to help pay the bills through school; but when The Andromeda Strain came out in the same year of his med school graduation, Crichton's new career path became obvious.

The Andromeda Strain brilliantly and convincingly sets out an American scientific crisis in the form of a deadly epidemic. Its tone -- both critical of and sympathetic toward the scientific community -- set a precedent for Crichton works to come. A 1970 nonfiction work, Five Patients offers the same tone in a very different form, that being an inside look at a hospital.

Crichton's works were inspired by a remarkably curious mind. His plots often explored scientific issues -- but not always. Some of his most compelling thrillers were set against the backdrop of global trade relations (Rising Sun), corporate treachery (Disclosure) and good old-fashioned Victorian-era theft (The Great Train Robbery). The author never shied away from challenging topics, but it's obvious from his phenomenal sales that he never waxed pedantic. Writing about Prey, Crichton's cautionary tale of nanotech gone awry, The New York Times Book Review put it this way: "You're entertained on one level and you learn something on another."

On the page, Crichton's storytelling was eerily nonfictional in style. His journalistic, almost professorial, and usually third-person narration lent an air of credibility to his often disturbing tales -- in The Andromeda Strain, he went so far as to provide a fake bibliography. Along the way, he revelled in flouting basic, often subconscious assumptions: Dinosaurs are long-gone; women are workplace victims, not predators; computers are, by and large, predictable machines.

The dazzling diversity of Crichton's interests and talents became ever more evident as the years progressed. In addition to penning bestselling novels, he wrote screenplays and a travel memoir, directed several movies, created Academy Award-winning movie production software, and testified before Congress about the science of global warming -- this last as a result of his controversial 2004 eco-thriller State of Fear, a novel that reflected Crichton's own skepticism about the true nature of climate change. His views on the subject were severely criticized by leading environmentalists.

On November 4, 2008, Michael Crichton died, following a long battle against cancer. Beloved by millions of readers, his techno-thrillers and science-inflected cautionary tales remain perennial bestsellers and have spawned a literary genre all its own.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our 2005 interview with Crichton:

"I'm very interested in 20th-century American art."

"I have always been interested in movies and television as well as books. I see all these as media for storytelling, and I don't discriminate among them. At some periods of my life I preferred to work on movies, and at others I preferred books."

"In the early 1990s, interviewers began calling me ‘the father of the techno-thriller.' Nobody ever had before. Finally I began asking the interviewers, ‘Why do you call me that?' They said, ‘Because Tom Clancy says you are the father of the techno-thriller.' So I called Tom up and said, ‘Listen, thank you, but I'm not the father of the techno-thriller.' He said, ‘Yes you are.' I said, ‘No, I'm not, before me there were thrillers like Failsafe and Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Candidate that were techno-thrillers.' He said, ‘No, those are all political. You're the father of the techno-thriller.' And there it ended."

"My favorite recreation is to hike in the wilderness. I am fond of Hawaii."

"I used to scuba dive a lot, but haven't lately. For a time I liked to photograph sharks but like anything else, the thrill wears off. Earlier in my life I took serious risks, but I stopped when I became a parent."

"I taught myself to cook by following Indian and Szechuan recipes. They each have about 20 ingredients. I used to grind my own spices, I was really into it. Now I don't have much time to cook anymore. When I do, I cook Italian food."

"I read almost exclusively nonfiction. Most times I am researching some topic, which may or may not lead to a book. So my reading is pretty focused, although the focus can shift quickly."

"I have always been interested in whatever is missing or excluded from conventional thought. As a result I am drawn to writers who are out of fashion, bypassed, irritating, difficult, or excessive. I also like the disreputable works of famous writers. Thus I end up reading and liking Paul Feyerabend (Against Method), G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, What's Wrong with the World), John Stuart Mill, Hemingway (Garden of Eden), Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Alain Finkielkraut (Defeat of the Mind), Anton Ehrenzweig (Hidden Order of Art), Arthur Koestler (Midwife Toad, Beyond Reductionism), Ian McHarg (Design with Nature), Marguerite Duras, Jung, late James M. Cain (Serenade), Paul Campos.

"Because I get up so early to work, I tend to go to bed early, around 10 or 11. So I don't go out much. I suppose I am borderline reclusive. I don't care."

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Michael Crichton (full name), Jeffery Hudson, John Lange
    2. Hometown:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 23, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Date of Death:
      November 4, 2008
    2. Place of Death:
      Los Angeles, California

First Chapter

Chapter One

The Provocation

Forty minutes out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles an hour. Riding the bright blue-painted engine, the driver in his red uniform could be seen standing upright in the open air, unshielded by any cab or windscreen, while at his feet the engineer crouched, shoveling coal into the glowing furnaces of the engine. Behind the chugging engine and tender were three yellow first-class coaches, followed by seven green second-class carriages; and at the very end, a gray, windowless luggage van.

As the train clattered down the track on its way to the coast, the sliding door of the luggage van opened suddenly, revealing a desperate struggle inside. The contest was most unevenly matched: a slender youth in tattered clothing, striking out against a burly, blue-uniformed railway guard. Although weaker, the youth made a good showing, landing one or two telling blows against his hulking opponent. Indeed, it was only by accident that the guard, having been knocked to his knees, should spring forward in such a way that the youth was caught unprepared and flung clear of the train through the open door, so that he landed tumbling and bouncing like a rag doll upon the ground.

The guard, gasping for breath, looked back at the fast-receding figure of the fallen youth. Then he closed the sliding door. The train sped on, its whistle shrieking. Soon it was gone round a gentle curve, and all that remained was the faint sound of the chugging engine, and the lingering drifting gray smoke that slowlysettled over the tracks and the body of the motionless youth.

After a minute or two, the youth stirred. In great pain, he raised himself up on one elbow, and seemed about to rise to his feet. But his efforts were to no avail; he instantly collapsed back to the ground, gave a final convulsive shudder, and lay wholly still.

Half an hour later, an elegant black brougham coach with rich crimson wheels came down the dirt road that ran parallel to the railway tracks. The coach came to a hill, and the driver drew up his horse. A most singular gentleman emerged, fashionably dressed in a dark green velvet frock coat and high beaver hat. The gentleman climbed the hill, pressed binoculars to his eyes, and swept the length of the tracks. Immediately he fixed on the body of the prostrate youth. But the gentleman made no attempt to approach him, or to aid him in any way. On the contrary, he remained standing on the hill until he was certain the lad was dead. Only then did he turn aside, climb into his waiting coach, and drive back in the direction he had come, northward toward London.

Great Train Robbery. Copyright © by Michael Crichton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 56 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    Edward Pierce is a man perfectly right for Victorian E

    Edward Pierce is a man perfectly right for Victorian England. He's really clever but he puts his wits to work at committing crimes. In this time period, railways are relatively new so he targets a London bank's regular shipments of gold bullion to Paris. He plans and arranges a heist that will give him lots wealth for the rest of his days.
    Pierce is the surprisingly engaging villain and in this book, the cast of characters surrounding him really come alive. The dialogue in the novel is written in the Victorian dialect. The content of historical and cultural detail add emphasis to the novel, but it's the characters that really make this story such a joy to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    The Great Train Robbery By: Michael Chrichton Michael Chrichto

    The Great Train Robbery
    By: Michael Chrichton

    Michael Chrichton's book The Great Train Robbery left an astounding effect on me in London, England in 1855. Chrichton goes in depth on what it was like and describes the different locations mentioned in the book. He does a great job in explaining and mentioning historical contexts of factual events and adding in his own characters thoughts and feelings to the mix. His style of writing is very unique and not many authors would be able to accomplish a great story like he has. He also adds in the backdrop or setting which is the Crimean war. The Crimean plays a strong and very interesting role as to of why the London train is shipping its bullion out to Britain. I would recommend the Great Train Robbery to all who like to read heist books with historical backgrounds in the mix. Chrichton does a great job and would have you until the very end. He does just a fantastic job and must be a must read to all that have not read the book.

    Chrichton writes his story around his main character, Edward Pierce, who is a wealthy bureaucrat with wealthy taste that decides he wants to rob a bullion of gold locked away on a moving train. He cannot do the job alone without a couple accomplices to aid him in his scheme and finds himself in the right position to carry out the plan. Though, Pierce runs into some complications when he has to find four keys the safe (the bullion is in) needs to be opened with. He eventually finds them and imprints the keys with wax. Now all he would have to do is carry out his plan, but there are more complications to arise. An example would be missing an extra pair of clothing that could expose oneself to suspicious glances from people who know them. Another, how to get back and forth from a train station without getting caught breaking and entering. Even though Edward and his crew face some very tough complications and flaws in their plan, they carry on. Will they succeed in their "Great Train Robbery"? Or will they fail? The answers are in Michael Chrichton's, Great Train Robbery, that will blow your eardrums off at the end of its whistle.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014


    With weapons. Open 6:00 am-11:00 pm.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014

    Loved it :)

    Crichton is my favorite author and you wouldn't expect that from a sixteen year old girl like me! I've read a few other Crichton books but this one is probably the most unique!
    I've read:
    Jurassic Park
    Pirate Latitudes
    The Great Train Robbery

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013


    What is the rp about

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013


    On the edge if my set the whole time! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2012

    Very good.

    I liked the bit about premature burial and how they took steps to combat it.

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  • Posted July 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Great Train Robbery is a disappointment compared to other Mi

    The Great Train Robbery is a disappointment compared to other Michael Crichton works. It boasts CONSTANT exposition while trying to tell it's own short-lived story.

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  • Posted January 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Half documentary and half historical fiction

    Michael Crichton's version of the sensational Great Train Robbery of 1855 was not straight-up historical fiction like I expected, but I still enjoyed it. The style swings back and forth between something like a documentary (featuring a lot of background on Victorian England and content from some of the original court documents) and fictionalized accounts of the conversations and actions surrounding the robbery (including a completely fabricated ending). I have seen this attempted in another book with a very uneven effect, but Crichton somehow pulled it off admirably...probably because conversations and action were consistently fictionalized and background info was consistently documentary in style.

    The protagonist is a charming, well-educated gentleman who deftly navigates both high society and the criminal underworld. His daring and ingenuity are impressive as he overcomes every obstacle between himself and the shipment of gold on its way from France to England. His reason for the heist: "I wanted the money."

    Overall: this was a great caper story, and as always Michael Crichton throws in lots of historical goodies...I just wish he hadn't felt the need to completely change how the story ended (and a number of other facts).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009


    When I first picked this book up, I didn't know what to expect. Before this, I had never read a historic novel. Personally, I hate history. And then I heard that the language in the novel was more Old Style. But once I started reading it, I literally could not put it down. Absolutely loved it!!

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  • Posted December 8, 2008

    The Great Train Robbery

    The Great Train Robbery written by Michael Crichton - review written by Brandon McKay<BR/><BR/> Extreme wealth and appalling poverty live side by side in Victorian London and Edward Pierce easily floats in and out of both worlds. Rich, smart, and handsome, he charms some of the noblest citizens, such as Edgar Trent one of the owners of a railroad. He charms them even as he plots the biggest, daring, and ingenious crime of his time, his century, some says ever, the theft of a fortune in gold.<BR/> But even Pierce could not predict the consequences of an extraordinary robbery that targets the pride of all of England's industrial era: The Steam Engine. Based on remarkable fact, and brought alive with gripping suspense, and surprise, Michael Crichton weaves this story with a set of ingenious characters. Such as clean Willie Williams, a cleansweep that has become England's finest snakesman or a person used to get into small spaces. Without Willie, Edward Pierce would have had no chance at the robbery. Or Barlow, the shady cabby who helps Pierce at whatever job is at hand. But even the noblest characters Pierce uses to his advantage, such as Henry Fowler, The train line owner, of the same train that Pierce robbed, or Edgar Trent who he uses through dog fighting, so even the noblest have their criminal hobbies. And finally Agar the sidekick who is not to be totally trusted as it seems.<BR/> Michael Crichton once again brings us a story full of suspense and surprise, in one of his best works of art. A New York Times Bestseller and "A GORGEOUS Read" as said by the Boston Globe. This book should be in everyone¿s library. If you read and like this book, you should also try Next, Prey, and State of Fear, all written by the same author (Michael Crichton).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2007

    A pleasure to read

    Edward Pierce is a gentleman rogue, a man perfectly suited to Queen Victoria's England. He's as clever as Sherlock Holmes, but he puts his wits to work at committing crimes instead of solving them. In this time and place where railway travel is relatively new, he targets a London bank's regular shipments of gold bullion - by rail, and by sea - to Paris, and sets about planning and arranging a heist that will give him fabulous wealth for the rest of his days. Michael Crichton's technothrillers, as much as I enjoy them, often suffer from wooden characters. This book most definitely does not. Pierce, the surprisingly (sometimes infuriatingly) engaging hero/villian, is beautifully written and the cast of characters surrounding him comes colorfully alive, even for those who play relatively minor roles. The dialog written in dialect and the wealth of historical and cultural detail add texture, and the plot works well but it's the characters that make this story such a pleasure to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004

    The Great Train Robbery

    Michael Crichton¿s The Great Train Robbery will take you to the underground world of betrayal and surviving as you witness, first-hand, the most intriguing money hoist in history. You will travel with Edward Pierce, the mastermind, and discover how he puts together specialists to complete the hoist. In the shaggy town of London, a train always leaves at the same time carrying two safes loaded with about two million dollars worth of gold. Legend has it that these safes are inpenetrateble, but of course, it never ends to compel criminals all over the city. One of those criminals is Edward Pierce. A criminal legend, he comes out of jail and plans this crime from the ground up. He goes around the city, offering his old partners in crime a portion of the money if they accept. The crew he chooses includes Robert Agar, the locksmith; Clean Willy Williams, the snakesman (a little kid who can squeeze into really tight spaces); Barlow, a big man who can carry a lot of weight; and Miss Miriam, who helps in setting up distractions. It takes him six years to plan the whole crime, from the train schedules to the drop-off points to the breaking of the safes. He has one problem though: there are two locks on each safe, and there are two safes, which means four keys to find. When he indirectly asks Fowler, the Bank¿s general manager, about them, he learns that they were split up into three locations: two in the train office, one with Mr. Trent, the bank¿s president, and one with Fowler. You will witness his creative ways he uses to obtain the keys, and his plot to rob the train. The main character in this novel, Edward Pierce, is very well rounded, with plenty of sides to him. He can instantly change from friend to foe. One day he might have a drink with you, and another day he might send his mafia at you to kill you. The other characters are flat. Their personalities remain hidden throughout the story, barely any feelings depicted. The overall setting of the novel contributes to the behavior of the characters. For example, if the police are chasing you all the time, and everybody you know might be an accomplice for them, you are most likely going to watch your back all the time, trusting no one. And that is what Edward Pierce did. When Clean Willy turns bad on him, he immediately sends over Barlow to end his small misery. Even though he had experience in crime, his plot ran into its share of problems, ranging from the local authority to treachery from his accomplices. Michael Crichton does it again, leaving you literally not being able to put the book down. Even though an excessive amount of information on Victorian society was written, it heightened the story by recreating that society in your head, so that every move and thought that the characters commit to has a meaning.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2003

    the great train robbery

    ¿A work of intelligence and craftsmanship¿ Written with grace and wit.¿ This quote comes from the Los Angeles Times. I wouldn¿t go that far but the book had its ups and downs. Like most books it doesn¿t start out slow it gets right into the mix of things. After it starts the pace doesn¿t change much it stays at about the same throughout the whole book. It starts out explaining the preparations for the heist telling who is going to do what and when/how they are going to do it. They run it to some conflicts with these preparations. They need four keys to get into the safe they are going to rob. They fix this by finding out who has the keys and where they keep their key. After they find this out they need a good snake man (a guy that can fit into small places and maneuver very quickly without being noticed) the only good one they know of is in jail so they have to get him out. After successfully doing this they snag 2 of the keys from the train station that was very well protected. Then they got another key from the bank owner that kept his key in his wine cellar in his basement. Getting this key took a lot of planning and sneaking but they some how pull it off. The fourth key is probably the easiest because the guy in charge of things had a key himself this made it a little easier. After they had all of the keys they had to plan a time and date for the grand faunally. They ran into some problems after the keys and all of the plans were finished. The day before they had planned to have the heist there was a good amount of rare wine on the train and it was stolen so this made the security on the train more tight. So they had to change their plans the day before they were gonna do the pull. These plans consisted of a coffin a man in the coffin and a crying lady. As the book winded down it left you waiting for more. I liked how Crichton told about the next chapter in the previous one. It made the book better but it got kind of boring and almost made me tired of it. But it was worth it in the end and it actually helped a lot with understanding what was going on.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2002

    Classic example of a great caper novel

    This book suprised me by the way it's just like the recent movie, 'Ocean's Eleven.' Anyway, it's a great book about a clever criminal Edward Pierce who hires a few rag-tag accomplices to aid him his amazing robbery on a London train. He keeps you intrested in the book by making the chapters short and easy to read as well. Overall, this book was pretty good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2002

    Pure genius

    Thrilling, puzzling, shocking. . . this book has got it all. While not Crichton's best work, it hits near the mark.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2000

    Crichton out did himself!!

    At first appearances The Great Train Robbery looks like any other crime novel. Yet, once you have read the first couple of chapters you understand this book is like none other. There is mystery and intrigue from page one. This book takes you on a world wind train robbery, and unlike other crime novels this books has you pulling for the bad guy. The book holds your attention from the first couple of pages and never lets it go. This book also takes you on every part if the train robbing planning. No little step of the planning is left out and every little detail is included. This book is a must buy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2000


    A perfect narration of a crime. However, Crichton lays stress on the criminal's perspective of the crime rather than making a mere detective story out of it. And taking us back by a century and a half into the lives of the masterminds behind the robbery... A real thriller!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2000

    must read

    this story was put together so well that i had to come on the web to see if it were true or turner.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    Read this book for the train ride of your life!

    Crichton isn't just a fiction writer, he is a master fiction writer. What is especially oustanding about Crichton's style is that he writes many of his books in documentary style. This leaves the reader almost convinced the story really happened. It is this unique quality that makes Crichton's fiction stand out from most other contemporary fiction. 'The Great Train Robbery' is an excellent example of Crichton's fiction. It is not only entertaining and suspenseful, but the historical setting and fine details will leave you wondering whether or not this really is a work of fiction or non-fiction! When a writer is able to write such a credible story which leaves the reader wondering whether this story really happened, one can have no doubt that the writer has been very successful in his literary craft.

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