I really enjoyed this book.Most people-me included- know that Bruce Reynolds was involved in The Great Train Robbery,but know little more about him,this book rectifies the problem. Bruce writes with candour and honesty.The majority of the book covers his life before the Train,and it very interesting and very readable,there i also a fair amount of humour in some of the characters he comes across,especially Nobby Clarke who served a customer whils robbing a shop. Bruce Reynolds manages to cover the gulf between a long diatribe on crime/jobs/criminals and page turning enjoyment.This was a very good and enjoyable read and put to bed many misconceptions thaty have grown up over the years concerning The Great Train Robber, and the criminal fraternity of the 1950's and 60's.
This is a very well-written book. Bruce Reynolds comes across as intelligent, shrewd, well-read and at least when it comes to self-awareness, honest. He was a thief and makes no excuses for that - crime was a career choice and he clearly enjoyed the challenges and the thrill of setting up and executing a series of daring robberies. He doesn't, however seem to have cared one jot for the people he robbed. The inside story of the Great Train Robbery is fascinating and Reynolds makes it all sound very straightforward, although the logistical arrangements were clearly complex and demonstrated the gang's abilities to be excellent project managers. His account of life on the run makes for good reading and the story of his arrest evidences the mutual respect that existed between "old-school" criminals such as himself and the cunning, determined policemen who hunted them down. Well worth reading.
I was just 12 when the GTR occurred in 1963 but as events and the aftermath unfolded, the event became so embedded in crime folklore that a recent TV two part series celebrating its 50th anniversary on BBC TV was not at all unexpected.
This biography by the "leader" written in 1999 and updated in 2003 mainly for the return of Ronnie Biggs, is easily the best book to read on the subject. Not because of the Robbery itself which only occurs nearly halfway through and is quickly overtaken by subsequent events post the Robbery. Instead it is because Reynolds the Robber (and Thief of the title) is a very articulate storyteller. This book conveys the reasons why Reynolds started out life as a teenage criminal and was beholden to the lifestyle of a thief up to after he finally got out of jail and realized his career was at an end (with his going to jail again for a later crime he claims he never committed).
Those were clearly different times and Reynolds' colorful retelling of his many escapades on burglaries and robberies from post WW2 onwards and enjoying of the high life with the proceeds makes the falling into place in 1963 of the GTR in planning and its aftermath all seem so inevitable. His writing style is very amusing and feels exactly as though he was standing at a bar recounting events with a glass of champagne in his hand to the reader.
On the Robbery itself there are a few interesting insights (especially reconfirmation of the innocence of Bill Boal and that three gang members did not get caught - one assumes the incompetent replacement train driver recruited by Biggs (who was tracked down by Piers Paul Read for his book on the Robbery); the Ulsterman who provided the inside information that set the whole plan in motion; and, the unnamed robber in the gang who injured the original train driver but despite being interviewed by the police had no evidence against him to be charged) but it is the details of the aftermath which leave you wondering most.
If Slade Farm had been better cleansed or destroyed post the robbery, one is left feeling the police would have struggled even more to solve the case. Similarly if the Robbers has appreciated the large amounts they would get (and the possible reaction then seen from the authorities and the police), more care on escaping quickly from the UK and hiding low for longer might have occurred. Reynolds himself based on his story seems to have been his own worst enemy, spending recklessly and having to return home when the funds ran out with his inevitable capture by DCS Tommy Butler who deferred his retirement until Reynolds (but not Biggs) was in prison.
The final part of the book covering imprisonment and life afterwards plus the later lives of the other robbers, suffers at times from too much philosophizing and little recognition of the impact of crime on his life, becoming instead more a celebration of the excitement and thrill plus comradeship he got from his accomplices in crime. Such an outcome sadly has been well prefaced in the earlier parts of Bruce Reynolds' biography.
The late Bruce Reynolds revealing his life as a career criminal from being a Raffles type crook to his 'Eldorado', the great train robbery of August 1963 when he smoked a Monte Cristo No. 2 cigar while waiting for the high value mail coach to rumble up to Bridego Bridge between Leighton Buzzard and Cheddington. He is often described as the mastermind behind that robbery but for all the bravado and the money that was stolen, he appears to have led a happier and more exciting life before the robbery and a more interesting media role after it. I would like to have known more about the two nights they spent at Leatherslade Farm prior to the robbery because that must be the high spot for the reader, that is where the pent up excitement lies but Bruce Reynolds only touches lightly upon it as do all the films, books and documentaries that have been made about the robbery.
It's an interesting read and if you are into true crime, it is hard to put down. They say it's mostly middle-aged women who read books like this, I am saying no more.
The clever thing about this book is that you find yourself rooting for Bruce when you damn well know that he might just be the sort of man to break into your grandma's house. This is a frank book by a very bright man who has been there, seen it all and paid the price. Despite everything, you come away liking and respecting this character who now leads a life on the straight and narrow. For the truth behind the Great Train Robbery, hear it from the mastermind.
Autobiographies are common place but few are told with such eloquence and candour. Here you experience the exhilaration of each job, the glamour of his lifestyle followed by the heavy price paid in term of loss of liberty for so many years. At no point does Bruce Reynolds ask for sympathy and accepts that he is a villain through and through. His story proves crime does not pay. The only question the book does not answer is that if he can produce work of this standard, why he did not pursue a career as a professional writer when he so clearly has the talent to do so.
This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the Great Train Robbery, but more especially it is of very significant interest to anyone with even a vague interest in psychology and sociology, in human behaviour. Bruce's childhood is the classic tale of loss, rejection and unhappiness - losing his mother when he was four, then very quickly his sister and grandfather, and then his father marrying again but Bruce not getting on with his step-mum, she putting down his beloved dog and then making Bruce be sent away to live with his grandmother, with few visits from the father he idolised.
So we find a highly intelligent teenager who is rootless, whom the education system is letting down, never seeing his ability and setting him on a course that would channel his talents into a stimulating and fulfilling career. And it is the absence of meaning, security and stimulation that leads him to crime, and Borstal, and then prison. The book is packed with fizzing detail of the London underworld, of the 40s to the 80s, and we see that world being governed by the same moral laws which govern the non criminal world. It does take quite a while - well over halfway - to reach the masterpiece of the Great Train Robbery, but Bruce's account, whilst telling us much, disappointingly lacks some of the detail and drama that we can read in other accounts of it. With sharp honesty Bruce then charts the immediate unravelling of that marvellous coup - robbing the Establishment who legally rob working class boys like Bruce - the descent into misery - on the run, with some forays into the world of glamour, but suicides and other early deaths, Bruce's divorce and separation from his son, and long years in prison until Bruce gets to the point where he regards prison as home and does not want to live in the outside world, or to live at all really.
It is a privilege to be allowed into the mind and life of someone who was the apotheosis of 20thC criminal world and educators would do well to learn the lessons revealed here - how we should stop failing and criminalising bright kids from poor city backgrounds. Yes, there is a careless immorality about Bruce's criminal activities, though he generally targeted institutions rather than individuals, and shunned the use of violence, but through all the activity we can see, from the first page, the causes of that. Bruce writes with vigour and vervre in a fast paced tale, colloquial, candid and very readable in style, and his honesty and humanity shine through each page. A very enjoyable and fascinating read, from which we can learn much.