Perhaps my favourite of all Shute's novels, "Round the Bend" contains many of his usual elements - aviation, enterprise, a mild love interest, and an unusual story very well told.
Tom Cutter got into aviation the hard way before World War II, working his way up first in an Air Circus that toured England in the summer season, then with Airservice where he became a competent ground engineer, servicing planes all over the Middle East during the War. With the suicide of his wife just before his return to England, he cannot face going back to work at the aerodrome where they met, and he buys an old Fox Moth aircraft to charter out in Bahrein. The enterprise is highly successful and his business develops so that he has to take on other pilots and engineers. To keep his costs down he employs only Asiatics - Sikh pilots and local engineers. The rapidly developing oil industry uses his charter service to link operations between the Persian Gulf, Indonesia and Australia. There, by accident, he meets his old friend Connie Shaklin - a first class aircraft engineer, half European, half Asian, who joins his operation as Chief engineer,
Connie's method of teaching aircraft maintenance combines the practical and spiritual - right thinking and good work are inseparable. An ascetic and modest man, Connie is soon established as a religious teacher in Bahrein gaining the respect of the local Imams and Sheik. The book unfolds the story of the spread of this teaching throughout the Middle and Far East among ground engineers and religious leaders. This spread parallels the development of Tom's aviation business eastward from Bahrein to Australia.
Shute handles the interwoven themes in masterly fashion - pioneering flying across India, Burma and Indonesia, Tom's tolerance of Connie's religious teaching and the attention it brings, the hostile reaction of Colonial authorities and Tom's ultimate support for his friend, and his love for Connie's sister Nadezna.
In writing this book, Shute must surely have drawn on his experiences during his flight in a light aircraft to Australia in 1948. The descriptions are evocative, the characters believable and there is much emotion as the story unfolds. Mature Nevil Shute at his very best.