Analysis of novel

Analysis of the Taking of Pelham 123

The taking of Pelham 123 is a thriller novel written by John Godey in 1973. It is the story of four criminals who hijack a train headed for New York. The gang leader Ryder is a former prisoner and he has undergone military training. The other criminals are Longman, who is a discontented former motorman, Welcome, an aggressive former mafia member and Steever, a powerful economical brute (Godey, 1973). They plan to kill all the passengers on board if they are not paid a ransom of one million dollars. The city has no option but to comply with their demands in order to save the innocent passengers. The police on the other hand try to figure out the hijackers’ master plan but the hijackers are too smart for them. Unfortunately, an argument crops up between Ryder and Welcome as they prepare to escape. Ryder ends up shooting Welcome and this commotion gives one of the passengers the opportunity to shoot Steever and run out of the moving train. Longman manages to escape and Ryder runs after the passenger and shoots him. By this time, the police have already arrived at the scene and Ryder is shot dead. Longman is later on arrested as the novel ends (Godey, 1973). Ryder is presented as an aggressive leader who is determined to accomplish his mission of revenge and his courage brings him close to that.

Ryder is a great leader, especially in such an undertaking. His ability to take the lead is brought out by the fact that he had gone through a military training. The writer uses flash back to make the reader understand the root cause of Ryder’s character. We get to learn that he is out to revenge on what he describes as an injustice committed against him by the New York City. He was working with Wall Street, and he happened to be part of a team who embezzled huge amounts of money. He confessed to be guilty of this crime and he repaid the money though short of two million shillings. The normal jail term for this kind of crime was three years, but the Mayor of the New York City made him to serve a ten years jail term. This explains why he was determined to take revenge, directed specifically to the city administration.

This also brings out the fact that Ryder was a criminal from the start. The only difference is that previously, he committed white-collar crimes, but his life in prison turned him into a blue collar criminal. His past and the courage that he possesses presented him as the ideal leader of the gang (Berardinelli, 2009). His execution plan and the timing of his mission also bring out an aspect of intelligence in him. He gives the City a time constraint of one hour so that they do not have enough time to come up with a counter attack plan. He was however ignorant of the fact that some of the hostages had communication devices that displayed everything that was going on in the train on the internet.

Being a former Mercenary, he was aware of police operations and this enabled him to plan in such a way that they could not figure it out. They came up with an escape plan, which was too complex for even the Federal Bureau of Investigation to perceive. Having worked with the City’s Wall Street before, he knew the subways well enough and therefore has no problem blocking the routes. The other feature that made him the ideal gang leader was that he was not an easy man to convince, and this enabled him to choose the man he wanted to negotiate with. He chose Garber because he knew him before and he also knew his unclean background of accepting bribes. He used this knowledge to humiliate him in public by making him confess his crimes over the radio.

He is presented as a risk taker and this is evident from the fact that he knew his day would not end up well but he goes ahead with his plans (H.W. Wilson Company, 1996). His other major characteristic is that he is an impatient man who ends up shooting one of his gang members because of a small argument that came up between them. This is the point where their plan started to fail as the upheaval made way for a passenger who happened to be an under cover police officer to escape. He shoots the second criminal and only two are left. While trying to pursue the man who just killed his friend, Ryder is rounded up by police officers and shot.

Ryder, having served in prison for ten years seems to have been hardened enough to enable him kill innocent people without a second thought. He must have acquired the idea of hijacking trains from his fellow prisoners. The train that they hijacked was full of people who were just travelling to their various destinations. They had nothing to do with his past, but they end up being the victims of his revenge plan. There are women with children, but this is nothing to Ryder. He promises that if his demands are not met in an hour’s time, then he will have no option but to execute his hostages one by one. At some point however, he stays in a different carriage from that holding the hostages since he feels that he might be overcome by piteous emotions and lose his focus (H.W. Wilson Company, 1996).

From the way he talks to the Mayor, he is authoritative and uses a lot of sarcastic language. An example is where he requests the mayor to offer himself up on behalf of the hostages. Despite all his arrogance, he ends up admitting to his mistakes. He however comes to this position when it is too late to make a change (Berardinelli, 2009). He is already dying and he admits that he envies Garber, who would do anything to protect the people he loves. This part of the book shows that even as a criminal, he still had a soft spot. It also shows that criminals are not necessarily bad people, but are usually compelled by their circumstances to commit crimes.

Godey is successful in bringing out the quality of leadership in Ryder. Despite the fact that it is in a negative setting, any person possessing the determination and courage that Ryder had can make an exemplary leader. This is because he gives orders, and failure to obey them is followed by severe consequences.


Berardinelli, J. (June 11, 2009). The taking of Pelham 123: A book review. Retrieved from

Godey, J. & Stone, P. (1973). The taking of Pelham One Two Three. Mattituck, N.Y.: Amereon Limited.

H.W. Wilson Company. (1996). Book review digest. Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Company.




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