Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review


By Sandy Weiss

Landfall is one of the novels that Nevil Shute wrote during the period of WWII. It was written during the time when the Germans were invading and conquering France and was published at the time of the Battle of Britain.

The book is a love story involving a pilot, Roderick Chambers and a barmaid, Mona Stevens. Roderick, nicknamed Jerry for reasons that must have been comically derogatory at the time, was flying an Anson bomber back and forth across the English Channel to keep track of shipping. On his off hours, he was building a model ship, listening to America on a home-made wireless and courting Mona. Mona was a social class below the "real" air officer Chambers; real opposed to wartime temporary officer. Mona was attracted to Chambers but resisted getting too involved with him at first, due to the social class difference between them.

Conditions were special on the day that Chambers observed a submarine during his patrol. His copilot was out sick so there was only one set of eyes in the cockpit. The visibility was limited due to poor weather. A notice had gone up prior to the flight that no shipping was to be attacked within certain coordinates and at certain times and the submarine was right on the borderline of those coordinates and only slightly off from the times.

Chambers made the decision to attack the sub because he did not see the markings the sub should have had if it was English, not because it had the markings it should have had if it was German. He sunk the sub with bombs. A nearby trawler picked up an English sailors' uniform and some English cigarette packages over the site where the sub went down and an English submarine, Caranx, went missing at the same time.

Headquarters reached the obvious conclusion; Chambers had made a mistake and had sunk the Caranx. The inquiry board decided that a justifiable mistake had been made and Chambers was punished only to the extent of being transferred to another unit. Chambers didn't want to move away from Mona but he needed to get away from the looks of the people that thought he had sunk his own ship.

Chambers was transferred north to a bomber group that flew leaflet dropping missions over Germany. He distinguished himself in the new position and was eventually volunteered to test pilot duty, flying an aircraft outfitted with experimental weaponry, and based back in the town where Mona lived. Chambers' duty was very dangerous because the bombs he was carrying were designed to explode in the proximity of enemy targets and the circuitry of the bombs was the part that was experimental; the designer of the circuitry was afraid that the bombs would go off by mistake and blow up the bomber.

Meanwhile, Mona was overhearing gossipy tidbits in the bar where she worked that led her to believe that two submarines were sunk on the same day; the English sub sunk by the Germans and the German sub sunk by Chambers. Mona told her story to a lady officer that frequented the bar. The story made its way to headquarters and a subsequent investigation proved that two subs had indeed been sunk on the same day and Chambers was a hero. The only trouble was, his plane did explode and he was seriously injured.

When he recovered sufficiently, Chambers married Mona and they sailed to Canada where he was to finish his recuperation as a flight instructor.

Mona's contribution to the clearing of the good name of Chambers gave her sufficient confidence in herself to eliminate her feeling of being from a lower class and allowed her to be comfortable enough in herself to marry Chambers. The book has a very happy ending, boy and girl get together, a very unusual occurrence in a Shute novel. I think Nevil Shute thought the English people needed something to be happy about at the time and was glad to supply. The book has very well developed characters, a lot of plot excitement, some very advanced technology to keep the technical people happy and a great love story to make everyone happy. This is the first time I have read this particular book but I am very glad that I did and I am going to add it to my list of favorite titles of Nevil Shute's books.

(NOTE: Many of Nevil Shute's novels draw upon his real life experiences. During WWII, Nevil Shute served in the Royal Navy's Department of Special Weapons and Devices and worked on a device similar to that which plays a key role in Landfall.)