THE FOUR HUNDRED by Stephen Sheppard
Kirkus Star


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After a slow start, and despite some draggy clumps of lecture-like Victoriana, this period heist adventure moves into high gear, winding up with a hurtling chase climax carried on simultaneously in three different countries with three different heroes. Four Americans, the brothers George and Austin Bidwell, plus George (""Mac"") MacDonald and alcoholic Edwin Noyes, hope to bilk the Bank of England out of 400,000 pounds sterling ($2 million) and thus enter the Four Hundred social set in Florida. Their plot turns upon the tradition-bound Bank of England's extending of credit for 90 days to notes of exchange between countries: when the four men triumphantly manage to get a 4000-pound note of exchange signed by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, the world's richest banker, they make a set of forgeries that they cash weekly until they've collected their financial goal. And much of the novel's interest is how they manage to set up a fake but unimpeachable corporation for the making of Pullman sleepers on the Continent so that their phony notes on Rothschild will be honored without checking. There's a last-minute disaster, of course--Noyes gets caught after their champagne victory party by drunkenly trying to cash a leftover, superfluous false check--but final triumph awaits. Unfortunately, however, the characters are less than engaging (this will no doubt be remedied in a forthcoming film version), putting considerable weight on the financial details of the swindle and the cultural ballast. So--if you're partial to banking procedures and fine-restaurant-and-hotel backgrounds, tackle the book. Otherwise: wait for the movie.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1979
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster