Saturday, February 23, 2013


Trustee From the Toolroom, Nevil Shute, William Morrow & Company, 1960, 311 pp

The #9 bestseller from 1960 took me completely by surprise. The title invoked boredom and also made little sense. But On The Beach, Shute's bestseller from 1957, had made a big impression on me and gave me hope.

The trustee of the title is Keith Stewart, one of those unprepossessing fellows from postwar England who bumbles along, doesn't expect much, but is an honest and honorable sort. These days he would be considered a world class nerd.

In his basement workshop he makes miniature models of engines, clocks, motorcycles, etc, carefully milling and lathing his own machine parts. He also writes a column for a niche magazine, the "Miniature Mechanic." Though he receives letter from all over the world and conscientiously answers every one, his take home pay is as minuscule as his models. 

Then, in the way of any good story, upheaval arrives when his sister and her fairly wealthy husband perish at sea, leaving Keith and his long suffering but supremely practical wife as guardians for their nine-year-old niece. Keith is also named trustee for the little girl's inheritance which turns out to include a valuable stash of diamonds lost on a corral island near Hawaii.

Soon enough this man who has never left England and rarely ventures from his hometown, has an adventure by air and sea the likes of which he had never imagined. Somehow, despite the unlikelihood of several coincidences, the story hooked me.

It is one of those tales where uprightness and hard work pay off. In our current world where dishonesty pays until it doesn't, where our heroes usually turn out to be false, I fell for the heartwarming simplicity of a guy who faces hardship to do the right thing and who, because he is skilled and clever and willing to go every extra mile required, wins in the end.

I made my husband read it. He is an engineer of sorts himself and a practical guy. It brought a tear to his one good eye, as we like to say about him when he (rarely) gets emotional, and pronounced it great. 

(Trustee From the Toolroom is out of print but available in libraries and from used book sellers. Also, curiously, many novels by Nevil Shute, including this one are available as eBooks from the two big eBook sellers who shall remained unnamed.)

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