by Nevil Shute
Reviewed by Dorothy Black
Out for a color drive one day in autumn, my husband and I looked for a place to eat lunch in a small city. We discovered a small mall at the end of which was a Tudor-styled building with a sign: "Winchester Arms Pub and Grill". That, we decided, was much more inviting than the nearby McDonald's. We entered, and were surprised by the décor. Bookshelves ran above the padded seats beside the black tables, and a long one ran the length of the large room, dividing it unevenly into eating and pub areas.
Some of the books were school and college texts, others were fiction, and indeed, all sorts of subjects were there. It was entertaining to discover them as we awaited our food order. The menu had items with British names and we ordered -- what else -- "fish and chips". Having eaten, we went to pay the bill and my eye was caught by a book near the door: "Pied Piper". Immediately I was transported back to the farm home I had grown up in, and the upstairs hallway where a bookcase held "Pied Piper"! On getting back to my present home I checked the bookshelf and there it was. Fate had determined the book chosen for this book report.
Pied Piper begins in a London club where two men are relaxing. They get to talking and the elderly man begins to tell about his love of fishing, his recent enjoyment of the Jura mountain area of France, near Switzerland, and his journey back home to England as the western front crumbles. His listener is intrigued and draws him out, discovering that they have some common acquaintances and interests and, this day, a need to relax and chat. Well into the tale we realize that as the two men talk, bombs are falling. They wonder if they should go to a shelter but decide not to, and continue their conversation.
The old man, John Howard, mentions that he had gone to his Jura holiday spot because of something that had happened, when he felt he needed to get away from London for a bit. It so happened that on the very day he left London, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. This soon impacts on his journey but he disregards the situation, continues on, and reaches his destination. When his listener realizes that the war had been taking place while Mr. Howard was in the Jura, he asks if he had difficulty returning to England. "Not really", the old man replies, but goes into detail when questioned. And so we learn that instead, he had had a very complicated and dangerous trip back.
The title of the book is self-descriptive, as Mr. Howard on his homeward journey ended up escorting seven children of various descriptions, even a German girl. Children being children, and the whole situation dangerous, all sorts of complications turn up as he makes his way toward safety in England. Fevers, lost luggage and clothing, lack of places to stay and food to eat, being bombed, even acquiring a cat, are just a few. There are several sub-plots that hold one's interest. One is Mr. Howard's frustration with his inability to help with the war because of his age, and his frailty under the difficult situations he is met with. Another is his good fortune in meeting a young French woman who, it turns out, was his dead son's girl friend and who becomes very helpful with the children and the war situation as it impacts on the whole group. Finally, there is the great problem of finding a boat totransport them from France to England under such hazardous circumstances.
In Pied Piper, Nevil Shute proved himself to be a master story teller. This much re-printed, gripping story is not based on fact. But it reads like it, with the frequent detailed references to places, times and backgrounds and the basic tale of rescuing children from war. Similar rescues were made and similar dangers met in those harsh times. Shute's story telling makes those experiences and those dangers ours as well.
by Nevil Shute
Copyright 1942, The Sun Dial Press
(Available new and used, Amazon online.)