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"Trustee from the Toolroom" review

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  • "Trustee from the Toolroom" review

    Keith Stewart was one of those pudgy little men nobody thought about much. He had his little workshop in his basement, wrote articles for "Miniature Mechanic", and his wife worked in a shop to make ends meet. He's just barely getting by, but he's doing what he wants to do.

    His sister and wealthy brother-in-law plan to sail from England, through the Panama Canal, off to Tahiti, and eventually back and north to Vancouver, where they intend to relocate. At his brother-in-law's request, Keith solders up a sealed box for his sister's jewelry and embeds it into some of the concrete ballast of the boat. Keith agrees to keep his 10-year-old niece until her parents make it to Vancouver.

    Months later, word comes that the ship has run into a reef near Tahiti. Two bodies were found, and all that was left of the sailboat are the keel and some concrete bits. Their will makes Keith trustee of his niece's inheritance... all 56 pounds of it. Her parents had apparently sold off everything they had and converted it into diamonds before they left.

    That jewelry box belongs to his niece, and it's his duty to retrieve it for her if he can... but Keith is a man who seldom leaves his house. He has no passport, no car, no friends, no relatives he can impose on, and almost no money. He doesn't even have any friends; just some casual acquaintances among the local model engineering hobbyists. So he starts calling up the only people he knows...

    Today we'd call it "networking". And that's really what the book is about; how a reputation can precede you, and a dash of "six degrees of separation."

    This book was written by Nevil Shute in the late 1950s. It's written in the style of British fiction of my grandfather's time, which means it's not going to grab anyone by the throat and yank them into the action. But it was worth reading, and I'm keeping my copy...

  • #2
    I've read it twice and most of Nevil Shutes others also. All great reads. Wish
    there were authors like that around yet. :-(


    • #3
      I thought: A Town like Alice, was pretty damn good.


      • #4
        We had to read "On The Beach" as a school assignment. I thought it was depressing, and it deterred me against reading anything else of Shute's for almost 40 years...


        • #5

          You have written a great review, I must dig out my unread copy and give it a go - it sounds good!

          Schools can have that effect - a couple I recall studying were The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) and The Power and The Glory (Greene), both pretty depressing books which I have avoided since, but I have read other books by these authors since.

          There was one 'gearhead' event in the Grapes Of Wrath which I liked - re-doing the babbitt in the truck....


          • #6
            "On the Beach" is one of the most depressing novels I've ever read ( "Crime and Punishment" would probably take the prize).

            "Trustee from the Toolroom", as corny and over-sentimental as it may be, is a favorite.

            For those who may not know, Shute was something of a model engineer, and some aspects of the Keith Stewart character were said to be based on W.T. Westbury.


            • #7
              No highway was my favourite, a parody on and about the comet disasters, worth a read


              • #8
                Author Nevil Shute's full name was Nevil Shute Norway.

                As Norway, at his day job, he was a respected aeronautical engineer and had a lot to do with the R100/R101 airship programme of the late 20's early 30's in the UK. For an insiders look at what went right and what went wrong with the project read his (Nevil Shute's) book Slide Rule, first published in 1954.


                • #9
                  Well FWIW my fav is "The Rainbow and the Rose"


                  • #10
                    WTH, I just started getting into it, all excited if he was going to get the box back somehow and then you end it?


                    • #11
                      Trustee from the Toolroom is my favorite, and my own life is somewhat similar to that told in the story, except that Keith had an adventure.

                      Shute also participated in a rather humorous project during WWII, the "Great Panjandrum":

                      The DMWD had been asked to come up with a device capable of penetrating the 10-foot-high (3.0 m), 7-foot-thick (2.1 m) concrete defences that made up part of the Atlantic Wall. It was further specified that the device should be capable of being launched from landing craft since it was highly likely that the beaches in front of the defences would act as a killing ground for anyone attempting to deliver the device by hand. Sub-Lieutenant Nevil Shute calculated that over 1 long ton (1,016 kg) of explosives would be needed in order to create a tank-sized breach in such a wall. The delivery method for such a quantity of explosives posed a significant problem, and one of the concepts discussed ultimately resulted in the construction of the prototype "Great Panjandrum". The proposed device was composed of two wooden wheels, ten feet in diameter with steel treads a foot wide, joined by a central drum fitted with the explosive payload. It was to be propelled by sets of cordite rockets attached to each wheel. It was predicted that when deployed with a full 4,000-pound (1,800 kg) load, Panjandrum would achieve speeds of around 60 mph (97 km/h), simply crashing through any obstacles to reach its target. The name "Great Panjandrum" was chosen by Shute as a reference to Samuel Foote's famous extempore nonsense paragraph (though Foote's term was actually "the grand Panjandrum"), and in particular to its closing line "till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots".
                      Weston Bye - Author, The Mechatronist column, Digital Machinist magazine
                      ~Practitioner of the Electromechanical Arts~


                      • #12
                        In my visit tho the Sherline Craftsmanship Museum, the display of Rudy Kouhoupt's models included a copy of the first edition of "Trustee From the Toolroom". Craig Libuse pointed out the resemblance of the cover drawing to Rudy himself.

                        Pardon the obligatory Tiffiepedia link;

                        Jim H.


                        • #13
                          loved Trustee

                          also recommend "Requiem for a Wren'


                          • #14
                            I've read all of Nevil Shute's fiction, most of it twice, and enjoyed almost all of it. "On the Beach" is my least favorite, and is quite unlike all of his other books. It's all a little bit sappy, but it is from a different time. I agree that Requium for a Wren is one of the better ones. A lot of them are like Trustee in that they feature ordinary people doing heroic things out of necessity, in a plain, straightforward, unassuming way. The model engineering content of Trustee is pretty well done. A lot of the others have engineering content, mostly from the early aviation industry. A number of them are set in Australia, which he obviously loved.


                            • #15
                              Bob Ward mentioned Shute’s autobiography, Slide Rule, and it’s a fascinating read. I particularly enjoyed his recollections of crossing the Atlantic on the trials of the R100 airship, which included periods spent sunbathing on top of the airship during the flight!

                              Weston Bye referred to Shute’s exploits with the DWMD (Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development). There an fascinating and amusing account of the work of the department during WW2 by Gerald Pawle, called The Secret War 1939-45. I’m lucky enough to have a copy of the book, but its now available online, if you can cope with online books:-