Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review


By Babette Hills

Nevil Shute shared the following information with us in the "Author's Note" when Marazan was reissued in 1951, 25 years after its original publication.

This "immature" novel was written in the evenings while Shute was chief calculator on the R100 airship construction team. He "turned to murder, detection and prison to learn the nature of drama" and perfect "his trade". He wrote that two previous novels were "quite unpublishable", although we now know them to be Stephen Morris and Pilotage, which were published in 1961, the year after his death. Shute also added that he "struck out a few out-moded expressions" when "Marazan" was reissued, but made no other changes.

This was the first book published by Nevil Shute, and since it is almost never the first of Shute's books read by his readers, it becomes an educational experience when compared with his later storytelling and stylistic techniques. It is also an enjoyable book to read simply for itself.

The first chapter introduces an early airline pilot, Philip Stenning, who is a recognizable stereotypical aviator. There are several laugh out-loud-lines and one wonders if this pilot helped set the "type". Remember, Shute wrote this at least a year before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in the "Spirit of Saint Louis".

Stenning crashes, through no fault of his own, of course, and is rescued by an escaped prisoner, Denis Compton. Owing him his life, Stenning agrees to help Compton investigate the illegal activities of Compton's half-brother, Italian Baron Rodrigo Mattani, who is responsible for framing Compton.

Compton's cousin, Joan Stevenson, also helps him and Stenning. Compton and Stenning interrupt a drug exchange in Marazan Sound in the Isles of Scilly (west of Land's End), during which Compton is shot. Stenning decides to bring down Mattani for murdering Compton and also for delivering dope to the "Garden of England" (one of several Kipling quotes).

Stenning, with help from Scotland Yard and a W.W.I flying buddy, an Italian Duca, plots to capture Mattani and his distributors in England (British phrase= the clearinghouse). The ending provides the best action in the book when Stenning flies chase after the drug running plane, and then pins the villains by flying low over them until the police arrive.

In "Marazan" Shute introduces several of his favorite themes and techniques, familiar to readers of his later books. Parts of this book are very sentimental. Stereotypes abound. The aviation information is of great appeal, to me at least. The humorous sections and thriller format are two departures from more well-known Shute fare. There seems to be more British phrasings in this older book. As an American, I could not always decipher the meanings of all words, although I could easily follow the action and reasoning.

This early mystery thriller showcases curiously modern themes - drug smuggling, flying, and murder. It must have seemed very avant garde when first published, and it remains an interesting read over 70 years later.