Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

Trustee from the Toolroom

"Trustee from the Toolroom"
A review by Sandy Weiss

Keith Stewart was a middle-aged, unassuming, slightly overweight and out of shape resident of a suburb of London. He had given up a job as a mechanic and dedicated his life to running the correspondence column of a magazine called Miniature Mechanics. He would design and build miniature motors, generators and clocks, serialize the instructions in the magazine and then answer questions for people all over the world that would write in. He loved his job, was very dedicated to his work and never failed to return a letter to a questioner. Stewart and his wife Katie had never had children of their own. They lived on a very tight budget, as his job was ill-paying.

When his sister and brother-in-law, the Dermotts, asked the Stewarts to keep their 10 year old daughter Janice while they yachted around the world to British Columbia, the Stewarts were delighted. The Dermotts were looking for a place to emigrate and had hidden their wealth, 26,000 pounds sterling worth of diamonds in the keel of their boat, as it was illegal to take money out of England at that time.

As luck would have it, a hurricane wrecked the yacht 300 miles east of Tahiti and the Dermotts were killed. Stewart took the responsibility of being trustee very seriously and decided that he had to travel 12,000 miles to the site of the wreck to recover the diamonds, in order to be able to take care of Janice in the fashion that he thought the Dermotts' would have wanted. He hitched a ride on an airplane as far as Honolulu and then teamed up with an American who was sailing to Tahiti on a small craft that the American had built himself. He found the wreck, recovered the diamonds and came home by way of Washington state, where he consulted on a lumber mill problem for one of his American correspondents. He came home much richer than he left, but didn't change his lifestyle.

Trustee was Shute's last completed book. Stephen Morris was published later but was written earlier. I think Shute was writing about a man that he modeled after himself. Stewart was an engineer of sorts who gained fame by writing about a subject he loved and was famous around the world. He wasn't high-born but turned out to be important enough to receive the help and admiration of his fans wherever he went. The brother-in-law, Dermott, thought he himself was important and that Stewart was a nothing. As it turns out, Dermott's death had no impact on the world except that it sent Stewart out into it and Stewart turned out to be the person that the world would miss if something were to happen to him. I highly recommend this book. It has been enjoyed by everyone that I know that has read it and is, I am sure, destined to remain one of Shute's more popular titles.