Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

 Pied Piper cover

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute was first published in 1942 and the subject is World War 2, I generally love books about the war that were written at the time, and I loved this one.

The story begins in a London club where an air raid is in progression. Two members get into conversation, John Howard is 70 years old and he tells the much younger club member – a naval officer – of his recent exploits in France. John Howard had gone to France to have a fishing holiday but to his horror the Nazis began their unbelievably fast march through European countries and before long they were in France. John had to get home to England – fast. But a couple of English guests in his hotel ask him if he could take their small children with him when he goes back home, they think that will be much safer for them. The children’s parents are diplomats and intend to travel to Switzerland on their own.

Things start to go awry almost immediately when one of the children falls ill and so begins a suspenseful journey with John Howard gathering more children along the way and having to join the vast numbers of refugees on the roads as the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed them. What should have been a simple train journey home to blighty turns into a complete nightmare when the trains are unavailable as the French army runs from the advancing German army.

Considering the subject matter I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Pied Piper, I think I enjoyed this one even more than The Chequer Board which had been my favourite. I now want to tread his book Most Secret (1945) as it also has a wartime plot. Have any of you read that one?

I had to laugh at the author’s portrayal of the French rural/country people as being money grabbing and avaricious – nothing changes, that has been exactly our experience of them over the years on various holidays.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times is a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and it has turned out to be a really useful tour around my own books, often books that I’ve forgotten that I had even bought and haven’t got around to reading. However this week my shelf is almost full of books that I’ve already read, in fact some of my favourite books reside on this shelf and I really like all the authors. Click the photo to enlarge it.


I loved Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy Fortunes of War and went on to read her Levant trilogy too. You can read what I thought about Fortunes of War here. I see that I read it back in 2010 in my very early blogging days – how time flies.

Men Do Not Weep by Beverly Nichols is one of only two books on this shelf that I haven’t read, apparently it’s a political book which was published in 1941 so it should be interesting. He’s better known for the books that he wrote based on his life, buying houses and making them into homes for himself with especial interest in planning the garden. There’s quite a lot of snooty wit involved in his writing. The series which begins with Down the Garden Path is a good place to start if you’re interested in reading his books. It was first published in 1932 so it’s a real blast from the past, for me these are real comfort reads. You can see my thoughts on some of his books here.

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute is the other book that I haven’t got around to reading yet. I think it’s the fact that it’s a very old paperback that has put me off from reading it. Having just read the blurb again it sounds like it’s right up my street. The setting is France in 1940.

John Howard, a retired country solicitor, holidaying in the Jura mountains, is persuaded to escort two English children home to safety.

Helped by the stubbornness and the patience of old age, hindered by the addition of another five waifs and strays, he makes his way across a crumbling and defeated France.

Have any of you read this one, if so tell me what you thought of it?

Pastoral by Nevil Shute

 Pastoral cover

Pastoral by Nevil Shute was first published in 1944 but my copy is a 1950 reprint complete with dust jacket.

I really enjoyed this one which is a mixture of unsoppy romance and nail-biting World War 2 action via a bombing crew. The R for Robert crew is based near Oxford, they fly a Wellington bomber and have been very successful, surviving nearly 50 sorties. Their success is almost certainly due to the fact that they all get on so well together, they have trust in each other’s abilities and Peter Marshall their captain is a very fair and even tempered chap. His personality keeps everyone calm despite the appalling stress that they’re all under flying their Wellington bomber to Germany on bombing raids so often.

Luckily all of the men are keen anglers and they all go off on fishing expeditions locally, it’s just what they need to keep their minds off the dangers they face on a nightly basis.

Peter Marshall falls heavily for a young WAAF officer, she’s a radio operator and feels that Peter is moving too fast, she’s not ready to get serious. Peter’s relaxed personality changes completely and he becomes bad-tempered and nit-picking around his crew which has a bad effect on their flying performance.

I found the descriptions of the flights to and from Germany to be incredibly tense, I’ll probably give this one a 4 on Goodreads at least.

Recent Book Purchases

Books, Books, Books

Last weekend we drove north up to Inverness so that Jack could watch his beloved Dumbarton FC playing against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Don’t ask – it was a disaster!

Anyway, on the road up we stopped off at the fairly famous bookshop at Pitlochry railway station. I was a wee bit miffed as they didn’t have many of the old hardbacks that I’ve been lucky in getting in previous trips there. However I did buy:

Merivel A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain – a 2012 paperback
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – a 1929 hardback
The Easter Party by V. Sackville-West – a 1953 hardback

From Priory books just off Pitlochry High Street I bought:
Pastoral by Nevil Shute – a 1950 hardback

A quick trip to Dingwall, a small town north of Inverness resulted in us discovering TWO second-hand book-shops there. I was flabbergasted and left wondering if the long hard winters up in the Highlands mean that there are a lot of keen readers around the area.

Picaresque Books and Galerie Fantoosh, Dingwall

One of the shops has the wonderful name of Picaresque Books and Galerie Fantoosh as you can see from the photo. (Fantoosh is a Scottish word meaning overly fancy.) The shop is a mixture of old books and works of art in the shape of paintings, pottery and jewellery – it’s a lovely shop with very friendly owners.

Anyway, I bought:

Novel Notes by Jerome K Jerome – an 1893 hardback
Reputation for a Song by Edward Grierson – a green Penguin crime from 1955
Cork in the Doghouse by Macdonald Hastings – a green Penguin crime from 1961

Have you read any of these ones?

I came home feeling slightly disappointed by my haul, which I think you’ll agree must mean that I’m getting positively greedy in my old age!

On The Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach cover

On The Beach by Nevil Shute was first published in 1957 and probably you’ve all read it already, but I hadn’t even seen the film (two have been made) and I had no idea what it was about.

Of course it’s about the end of the world – as we know it, and that came as a bit of a shock to me, in fact I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading it, but I bashed on anyway and although it’s well written as you would expect of something written by Shute, I did find it a bit of a downer, especially given all the sabre-rattling that’s going on in the world today – and in every direction I look there seem to be unstable leaders.

The story is of course based in Australia where Shute moved to from England. It’s set mainly in and around Melbourne, there’s been a short but catastrophic war culminating in nuclear weapons being used and particularly a cobalt bomb which was designed to cause the maximum nuclear fallout over a large area.

At the beginning of the book most of the inhabitants of Earth are already dead from radiation sickness and the residents of Australia are waiting on the contaminated air to reach them. Everything is running out, people are using horse-power again as there is very little petrol for cars, but most people haven’t really come to terms with the fact that they only have months to live, people are in denial and still make plans for the future. I liked most of the characters and their actions seemed to me to be believable.

On a personal note, I was still at primary school and it was the height of the Cold War when I realised that in the event of a nuclear war the area that I lived in would be first in line for a nuclear strike as I lived close to the nuclear submarine base on the west coast of Scotland, in fact my dad worked there. It didn’t worry me for long though as I thought that it would be an advantage to ‘go’ in a flash so to speak. On The Beach just made me think that I was absolutely right about that.

I read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

As I’ve already completed my reading for the Classics Club I decided to get stuck into Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 which is run by Karen @Books and Chocolate (what a fab blog name).
My book list consists of:

1. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
5. Montaigne Essays
6. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
7. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
9. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting
10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
11. I, Claudius – Claudius, the God by Robert Graves
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Have you read any of these ones? I’ve had most of these book waiting in a queue to be read for years now and this will encourage me to get around to them at last!

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

A Town Like Alice cover

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute was first published in 1950 and I don’t remember ever not knowing about it, such is its fame, but I hadn’t ever really been drawn to actually read it until Lisa @ TBR 313 mentioned it was her favourite. Even then, when I flicked through the old 1956 hardback copy that I managed to buy at a second-hand book-shop, I had misgivings when I saw the Japanese names. Possibly that was why I had avoided it, having had a few chaps in my extended family who had been prisoners of the Japanese during the war. Anyway, it turned out to be a page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Jean Paget had gone out to Malaya to work before the outbreak of war, she had had family links with the country and was able to speak the language. When the Japanese army so unexpectedly swept the country she had ended up being a prisoner along with the wives and children of the men who had worked out there. The men were all taken prisoner and taken off to build the infamous Burma railway.

Meanwhile the women and children weren’t wanted by anyone, they were shoved from pillar to post having to walk hundreds of miles in search of a women’s prison that didn’t exist, with many of them dying of exhaustion.

Jean’s strength of character is a life-saver for them all and when she gets back to Blighty after the war she settles down to a boring and lonely life as a shorthand typist, until she gets word that she has been left a fortune by an elderly uncle. Jean is the only survivor from her family and the lawyer appointed as a trustee of her inheritance befriends her, he helps her achieve her ambition of digging a well for the women of the village where she had lived and worked during the war.

When Jean discovers that an Australian soldier she had assumed had died had actually survived she sets out to find him and so begins a romance that leads to her settling in Australia’s outback and developing bit by bit a community and better way of life for the people of that remote area.

Nevil Shute was obviously very enamoured of the Australian landscape and the people who scraped a living on farms in the searing heat with practically nothing in the way of comforts. Although the way the aboriginals are portrayed is a bit uncomfortable, I’m sure he was writing an accurate picture of their life. I think perhaps things are in some ways even worse for the aboriginals nowadays.

A Town Like Alice is a great read though and I’ll probably give it five stars on Goodreads.

Scottish Highland Book Purchases

books 2

The photo above is of the books that I managed to buy on our brief jaunt up to the Highlands with Peggy. Some were bought at the Pitlochry railway station, a local charity has turned an old waiting room into a bookshop, and they have some great books at very reasonable prices. There’s also another second-hand bookshop just off the high street, well worth a look. I think it’s called Priory Books. I bought two there I believe.

Others I bought in Fort William in a second-hand bookshop just off the main street. It’s not that big but I’m always lucky there.

A few of these books jumped right to the top of my queue so I’ve already read three of them, but only managed to blog about one of them so far – Candleshoe.

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols
The Small Dark Man by Maurice Walsh
The River Monster by Compton Mackenzie
The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (about Macbeth)
Quenn’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Candleshoe by Michael Innes
A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson (illustrated by Michael Foreman)

A decent haul I think but it is a wee bit worrying that within less than two weeks I bought 24 books, apart from anything else I need another bookcase now, or maybe I should perform a book cull, but I’ve done that before and ended up regretting getting rid of some books. I might have a six months cooling off period for them in the garage and see how I feel about them after that.

Have you bought many books recently?

No Highway by Nevil Shute

No Highway cover

No Highway by Nevil Shute was first published in 1948. Shute was of course an aeronautical engineer and pilot and he worked in that industry at the same time as he was writing his earlier books. In No Highway Shute has plundered his experiences of working within the aviation industry.

The tale is told by Dr Scott, the head of the Structural Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Theo Honey is one of the employees he is in charge of, Honey is a strange character as far as everyone else is concerned, he has weird ideas about religion and being able to gain information through using a planchette. Honey’s wife was killed when their home was bombed during the war and he has been left to bring up their young daughter on his own.

Honey is completely obsessed by his research on stress and metal fatigue in aircraft and he thinks he has discovered that the newest trans-Atlantic Reindeer aircraft is likely to suffer catastrophic damage involving the tail falling off after they have flown around 1400 hours.

Nobody wants to believe his research outcomes and his weird interests are used against him, to paint him as someone not to be taken seriously. One Reindeer aircraft has already crashed into a mountain but as usual the crash has been blamed on pilot error. Honey and Scott believe that if they don’t stop the other Reindeers from flying then more people will die in crashes. Honey is sent off to Canada to look for evidence of metal fatigue on the crashed aircraft, and ends up taking desperate action to stop the plane he is on from flying on when it stops to refuel.

This is a good read, at times quite gripping and also involves quite a lot of romance as Honey is one of those men who are obviously in need of the love and care of a good woman to nurture and protect him. He brings out their mothering instincts, much to the amazement of the more worldly men around him. .

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute

The Chequer Board cover

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute was first published in 1947 and it was my friend and one time neighbour Christine who pointed me in its direction, and I’m glad she did as it was a really good and interesting read.

John Turner, a flour salesman has been having health problems for a while, he had been badly wounded during the war and it was thought that he wouldn’t survive his wounds. He does get better but the fragments of shrapnel still lodged in his brain years later have started to give him problems, the upshot being that he is given around one year to live.

John married just before the war but over the years he and his wife have grown apart, his prognosis brings them together again and when John decides to track down the men he feels had given him the will to live again when he was in hospital, his wife helps him track them down.

It was a very disparate bunch of chaps who talked to John when he was unable to move and having to lie flat in a hospital bed. One was a very snobby RAF pilot, another was a young black GI who had been based in Cornwall, and a young corporal charged with murder. Their stories and experiences have been in John’s mind since the war. He feels they saved his life and before he dies he wants to know what has happened to them over the years.

I think the most interesting story is the one about the experiences of black GIs in Cornwall. The black soldiers were given the task of setting up camp before the white GIs turned up in Cornwall and the black men caused quite a sensation in the small town, making themselves very popular as they were very obliging, helping people to fix things that had been left neglected and broken due to the fact that most of the local men were off at war.

Everything changes though when the white GIs turn up and take exception to having to share the local pub with ‘niggers’. The US high heid yins decide that the pub will be off limits to the black GIs but the pub owner objects to that and bans the white US soldiers.

According to this book there had already been trouble in two other English towns where there had actually been shoot-outs between black and white US soldiers.

The Chequer Board goes some way to explaining Daphne du Maurier’s attitude towards the US in her book Rule Britannia. (1972)

This is the first book I’ve read by Nevil Shute and I’ll definitely be reading more.