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Nevil Shute

Classic 20th Century English Novelist

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1949. No Highway



Chambers, Harry (ed.), 'AN ENORMOUS YES in memoriam Philip Larkin (1922-1985), first published in 1986 in Great Britain in paperback, 68pp, ISBN 0905291859. Condition: Good condition ex-library copy with exterior protected by plastic sleeve, although the cover is still a little creased. The book has not suffered for its years of library service, but it does have the normal library markings - spine label, barcode, sold stamp, ownership markings, cataloguing stamp and desensitised security tag on the plastic sleeve at the back. Price: £3.20, not including post and packing, which is Amazon UK's standard charge (currently £2.80 for UK buyers), more for overseas customers
1964, Heinemann, hbk
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  • No Highway [top]
    First published in 1948 in Great Britain by William Heinemann; and published in the United States in the same year by William Morrow
    Reprinted in 1949, 1950, 1951 (twice), 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961 (twice), 1963
    Reprinted in 1964 in Great Britain by Heinemann in hardback, 269pp, no ISBN

About this book/storyline: this novel is a fascinating and gripping book written in the early days of aircraft flying long distance scheduled flights and it follows the lives, loves and work of two of the aviation engineers at Farnborough - Dr. Dennis Scott, who is in charge of the Structural Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough; and Theodore Honey, a rather old fashioned, naive, and somewhat socially hapless widower who was already in the department when Scott took over and working on fatigue in light alloy structures.

Theodore Honey is an unusual man and is not always taken seriously - he has interests in the occult, and is known to be calculating when Jesus Christ is due to return to Earth (to Glastonbury) based on the alignment of the Great Pyramid. He's a very ugly, lonely man and wears shabby clothes; his daughter Elspeth is taught at the local school by Dr. Scott's wife, Shirley and is as odd as her father. But the moral of this novel is that we should not discount people who don't fit into the normal mold and that we should listen without judgment.

Theo is a highly intelligent and eccentric boffin and has established that the Rutland Reindeer aircraft may suffer tailplane fatigue at 1,440 hours. His research on fatigue has been having an impact all over the Farnborough establishment from the sheer noise and vibrations of the large motor and cams used to simulate a plane in normal flight conditions

The interesting thing about Theo is that he l oves his research and he knows exactly what he needs to do to prove or disprove his theory. What he is not good at doing is realising the enormous impact his research will have if his point is proved. For example, it will lead to the grounding of all four Reindeer planes already in service and the complete loss of C.A.T.O's (Central Air Transportation Organisation) transatlantic service as a result.

The alarming news that the tailplane may fail causes Dr. Scott a major personal dilemma. Dr. Scott is not knowledgeable and experienced enough to know whether Mr. Honey is right about the tailplane and some of Honey's research is based on brand new nuclear fission theory, in this case by Koestlinger of Basle University and by Schiltgrad of Uppsala indicating that molecules absorb a small portion of energy when they are vibrated. What this means is that Dr. Scott has to take Honey's theory and beliefs on trust and Scott knows that that will come down to how believable and credible Honey is as a person. Unfortunately for him, Honey has a reputation amongst his peers for holding unusual and unorthodox beliefs and therefore little credibility.

Dr. Scott decides to escalate the news to his director at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, but he is non-too worried since he doesn't take Mr. Honey very seriously as a result of his lost tribes of Israel and Great Pyramid theories. Further, the only four reindeer planes in service have only flown a couple of hundred hours, so there's plenty of time to fully research tail fatigue. BUT that prospect is short-lived when they realise that a reindeer had actually already crashed in Labrador in Canada.

Honey is despatched to Canada to find the tailplane of the crashed Reindeer and to his surprise finds that he will be flying there on the very type of aircraft that he is investigating - a Reindeer, but he is not concerned about this because he knows that they are new and have flown very little. His pleasure and comfort in the plane is soon destroyed and descends into horror as he quickly establishes that the very plane he is flying on has nearly exceeded the estimated time period it would take until failure of the tailplane. When the enquiries about how many hours the Reindeer aircraft had been flying were made, this aircraft had been missed - it had been on trials in South America with Anglo-Brazil Air Services and had not been counted. Honey realises that his and the other passengers lives are in mortal jeopardy.

On that very flight is Monica Teasdale - an actress that he and his late wife Mary both held dear and whose films they watched devotedly. He also finds that the captain was a close friend of Bill Ward, the pilot who lost his life when the Reindeer crashed in Labrador. Samuelson knew that the aircrash report that came out of that accident was wrong - it blamed pilot error stating the Bill had flown low over the trees to check the aircraft's position. Samuelson knew Bill would never have done this. In Samuelson and Monica Teasdale, Honey finds some support, but there are dissenting voices on the flight in the form of the second pilot, Dobson and the engineer Cousins who disagree with Honey's assessment (Dobson thinks he's lost the plot). Samuelson is torn between doing his job and listening to an "unconfirmed" technical expert and he chooses to carry on with the flight but with the inboard engines shut down to reduce vibration on the tailplane. The journey to Gander, their stop en route, will take longer, but all they can do is pray they will get there. Lacking any concern for his own well being, Honey takes both Monica Teasdale and Marjorie Corder on one side and warns them that if the plane goes down, there is one place on the aircraft where they might survive. This thoughtful, caring move changes Honey's life in an incredible way.

Thus starts the race to find irrevocable proof to bear out Honey's metal fatigue research, before more lives are lost. Both Theo and Dr. Scott battle to convince the influential voices in aviation and to find the missing tailplane off the crashed Reindeer in Labrador. whilst Theo doesn't himself find the missing tailplane, he employs highly unusual methods to locate it and into the bargin, he finds love in the most unexpected manner

Verdict: 9/10
The book is fast-paced and exciting; I first heard this story on an excellent radio adaptation of the novel and was totally gripped. You can't help but feel the tension as Mr. Honey first of all realises that he's on a plane that is near the point of metal failure and secondly realises he can't get the pilot to turn back. The romantic, love angle of the story is done very well and Shute's portrayal of a misunderstood, awkward man who is not in touch with his own emotions and finds talking to other people really really difficult is perfect and never slips. Mr. Honey is really only ever happy with his research, his religious convictions and beliefs and in the love of his daughter. As with other Nevil Shute books, this story is unputdownable

Characters:

  • Theodore Honey: A middle-aged widower and scientist engaged in researching metal fatigue at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Hampshire(RAE)
  • Dr. Dennis Scott: Younger, dynamic aeronauticist and recently appointed head of the structural department at the RAE. Theodore Honey becomes one of Dr. Scott's team
  • Marjorie Corder; Airline stewardess, in her mid-20's and tiring of the 'glamorous life' with the fictional C.A.T.O (Commonwealth Atlantic Transport Organisation)
  • Elspeth: Honey's daughter;
  • Shirley Scott: Dr. Scott's wife, teacher in a local school and teacher of Mr. Honey's daughter
  • Monica Teasdale, a world-famous Hollywood actress, 29 years older than Marjorie Corder and facing up to the demons of getting older and missed opportunities earlier in life. Her original name was Miss Tyra Tuppen
  • Captain Samuelson: veteran pilot of the Reindeer, highly respected and long time friend of Bill Ward, the pilot who crashed in Labrador
  • Dobson, first officer on the Raindeer flight to Labrador; hostile to Mr. Honey
  • Mr. Symes - local Air Registration Board Inspector at Gander airport
  • Squadron Leader Penworthy - flew the prototype Reindeer. Consulted by Dr. Scott
  • Sir Phillip Dolbear - chairman of the Inter-Services Atomic Research Board, possibly the only group able to advise on the structure and conclusions of Honey's fatigue research
  • Ferguson, Department of Experiment and Research at the Ministry of Civil Aviation
  • Carter - Ministry of Civil Aviation
  • Sir David Moon, chairman of C.A.T.O.
  • Drinkwater - Air Registration Board
  • Carnegie, Technical Superintendent of the Department of Experiment and Research at the Department of Transport
  • Group Captain Fisher - accidents branch - Dr. Scott goes to see him to find out more about the crashed reindeer
  • Group Captain Porter of the Royal Canadian Airforce
  • Squadron-Leader Russell, Inspector of Accidents
  • Stanley Morgan - director of Research and Development and the Royal Aircraft Establishment
  • Hennessey, a civilian pilot involved in helping Dr. Scott locate the missing tailplane
  • Stubbs, Squadron-Leader Russell's assistant
  • Simmons - proceeds with the vibration testing of the Reindeer tail whilst Honey is away
  • Miss Peggy Ryan - the other stewardess on the Reindeer flight to Canada

 

 

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