Monday, May 15, 2006

The Great Train Robbery

Non-Spoiler Alert: Even though the following article is about a book, it contains no plot details or any other such information that might reduce the enjoyment you derive out of reading the same.

I just finished reading The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton. The book describes in elaborate and fascinating detail a heist on a shipment of gold from a train in England in 1855. It's quite obviously based on 'The Great Gold Robbery of 1855' with which it shares many similarities right down to the names of the conspirators involved. However, here's the part that I don't get -- on the first page of the book, even before the index, is the customary disclaimer. It reads [ad verbatim] as follows:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

What? Come again? There is nothing, and I repeat nothing, coincidental about the events, names, persons etc in the book or I'm the Queen of England! Except for a few minor twists, the book describes the actual robbery down to the very finest of details. It's even written in a manner as if it is supposed to be narrating a true event. (For example, the author often states that such and such was later discovered during so and so's testimony.)

Now it doesn't really make much difference to me whether the book is based on a true story or not -- it's a brilliant book either way. But I'm totally flummoxed by the proviso stated in the beginning. Any light thrown on the matter would be welcome.

One of the reasons why I liked the book so much is because it's an excellent insight into Victorian England. Crichton's put a lot of research into this novel, and it clearly shows. He frequently digresses to provide some interesting facts or anecdotes about the England of the time.

The book is also a veritable treasure trove of criminal speak. It's a whole different language, I tell you. Terms like "magsman", "flash pull", "turn nose", "screwsman", "crusher", "miltonian", "crow", "rampsman", "buzzer", "bug-hunter", etc fill the book and add their own flavor to the story. I'm sure quite a few of these terms still exist among the criminal class in Britain even today.

Just to clue you in on how some of these terms derive -- let's take "turn nose". A "nose" is someone who squeals to the cops, and "to turn nose" is to become a squealer in return for some favor from the police. This term comes from the fact that a squealer "blows" on you, quite like you "blow" your nose. Hence, "nose" came to signify a squealer.

To conclude, here's today's lesson in British slang - Cockney Rhyming Slang. Enjoy.

1 comment:

KT said...

Why don't you try and contact Michael Crichton himself?

And give the book back to me. I hope Anand doesn't read this post