Story Synopses

Stephen Morris 1923 (Published 1961)
Pilotage 1924 (Published 1961)

The two stories in Stephen Morris, "Stephen Morris" and "Pilotage", were some of Shute's earliest works (1923-24) and were published the year after he died. "Stephen Morris" is semi-autobiographical, and tells of a young engineer just out of Oxford who works for a struggling aircraft builder and who proposes to the girl of his dreams. "Pilotage" continues Stephen Morris's story, but shifts to Peter Dennison, Morris' navigator on a flying boat testing the feasibility of airmail service between London and New York. No such service existed at the time Shute wrote the story.

Marazan 1926

Phillip Stenning, an RAF ace in WWI, works at aviation jobs in the thirties. When a friend is murdered, he investigates. He tracks down a smuggler and supporter of Il Duce and lays a trap.

So Disdained (AKA The Mysterious Aviator) 1928

Peter Moran, a former WWI pilot, manages an English estate. While driving one evening, he encounters a pilot fleeing the forced landing of an airplane. The pilot is Maurice Lenden, with whom Moran served. Lenden tells Moran of his troubled life since the war, doing odd flying jobs and aerial surveys in Honduras. But another country asks Lenden to do covert surveys of England, and he may be guilty of treason.

Lonely Road 1932

Malcom Stevenson, a wealthy ex-naval officer, is involved in a staged auto accident. Gun smuggling and political plots are involved, and Stevenson must unravel them with the help of a dance hall hostess.

Ruined City (AKA Kindling) 1938

Henry Warren, director of an English banking house, decides to buy and reopen a deserted shipyard in order to help a depressed city, boost the tradition of British shipbuilding, and have some fun. He works hard at making a go of the business, and has faith in his goals, but cuts a few legal corners to help the company and continue to provide work for his employees. This gets him into trouble with the law.

What Happened to the Corbetts (AKA Ordeal) 1939

Shute foretells the effect of aerial bombing on a modern city in telling the story of the Corbett family at the start of World War II. What happens when a family used to electricity and running water can no longer count on them?

An Old Captivity 1940

This is a book about a long, difficult flight. The story follows an air expedition to Greenland in search of the ruins of Viking settlements. It mixes the modern story of Ross (a pilot) Cyril Lockwood (an Oxford archaeologist), and his daughter Alix with the "remembered" story of Haki and Hekja, two runners from Scotland who sailed with Leif Erickson to Vinland the Good, the first European explorers of America.

Landfall: A Channel Story 1940

Jerry Chambers is a coastal patrol pilot in WWII; Mona Stevens is a barmaid at the Royal Clarence hotel where Jerry hangs out. They meet and fall in love. All looks fine until Jerry is accused of making a terrible mistake in combat, and only Mona may be able to rescue his career.

Pied Piper 1942

John Howard, an elderly Englishman, is on vacation in Southern France at the beginning of World War II. He promises some friends that he will take their children back to England with him. Along the way, Howard encounters a number of different children, taking each under his care. When France falls to the Nazis, trains are halted, cars run out of gas, the roads are filled with refugees and strafed by german planes. Unless Howard can find a way for his little group to escape to Britain, they will all be killed or imprisoned.

Pastoral 1944

Peter Marshall is a bomber pilot in WWII Britain, and Gervase Robertson a WAAF on his airbase. They meet and fall in love, but Gervase isn't sure about their relationship. She has duties to perform that take precedence over individual emotions, and the future is all too uncertain. Peter takes off day after day on bombing missions, and the odds are not good that he will keep returning unscathed from each flight.

Most Secret 1942 (Published 1945)

During WWII, a secret commando mission is planned using a French fishing boat and a terrible flame weapon. German gunboats in a town on the French coast are the target, and the commandos hope to show the Nazis that England is not beaten, and to let the French know they are still remembered by England.

Vinland the Good 1946

A film play of the Viking portions of An Old Captivity. Major Callender returns to his pre-war teaching job, but lasts only a day teaching history when he tells his students a different story of the new world in order to make history more relevant. The story Callender tells emphasizes the importance of the little man in history, and fails to endear him to the more traditional faculty.

The Chequer Board 1947

John Turner, a little man, learns he will die of a head wound suffered during the war. He accepts this, but decides to do something good in his remaining time. He decides to visit three men he met in his hospital ward. They were each in trouble when he met them, and now he sets out to find how each has chosen his life and settled his problems.

Seafarers 1947 (Published 2002)

Nevil Shute wrote the first SEAFARER manuscript sometime around 1946-47. He thought enough of his first effort to rewrite the entire manuscript shortly thereafter. However, he apparently did not think either was worthy of publication. In 1948, he rewrote the story as BLIND UNDERSTANDING, another tale of the after effects of war. In it, he included many of the scenes and topics later to be found in REQUIEM FOR A WREN. He must have been dissatisfied with that version as well, as he put it aside. REQUIEM FOR A WREN was the only one of this developmental sequence to be published.


THE SEAFARERS was resurrected in 2001 and, with minor editing, published for the first time in May 2002. It is the story of two young people trying to find love and to adjust to life after World War II. Unlike most stories of post war adjustment, Nevil wrote of the difficulty of giving up the excitement of war for the drab post war environment. His characters, like many young people who grew up in the war, struggle to find meaningful lives thereafter.

No Highway 1948

Theodore Honey, a metallurgist working for the Royal Aircraft Establishment, develops a theory on metal fatigue. He predicts that the tail of a new plane, the Reindeer, will develop metal fatigue and fall off after a set number of hours. He is sent to Newfoundland to investigate the mysterious crash of a Reindeer and find the lost tail section in order to prove his theory. On his trip he befriends a young stewardess and an aging movie actress, and then finds that he is flying on a Reindeer!

A Town Like Alice (AKA The Legacy) 1950

Jean Paget, captured during WWII and marched around Malaya by her Japanese captors, befriends an Australian truckdriver, also a POW. The truckdriver, Joe, is crucified by the Japanese when he steals chickens for Jean and her companions. She is marched away from the scene, convinced that Joe has died for her.

After the war, she receives a cash legacy and travels back to Malaya to give a thank offering to the village women who helped and befriended her there. Learning that Joe is still alive, she continues on to Australia, is reunited with Joe, and procedes to turn a miserable outback town into a thriving Town Like Alice (Alice Springs).

Round the Bend 1951

Tom Cutter, the narrator, assembles a collection of cargo planes to move goods all over the Middle East and Asia. He comes to realize one of his chief mechanics, Connie Shaklin, is starting a religious movement among his mechanics based on the love that goes into good work.

The Far Country 1952

Jennifer Morton comes to Australia from England to visit an aunt and uncle on their wool station (sheep ranch). She meets Karl, a Czech refuge and former doctor now working as a lumberjack. They fall in love, but the path of love does not go smoothly. Jennifer must return to England, and Karl must find a way to finance his medical recertification, and to join Jennifer in England.

In the Wet 1953

Stevie, an ex-pilot, ex-ringer, drunk and drug addict lies dying in a remote hut in the Australian outback in the wet season. His passing is winessed by a an old Episcopal priest. As he lays dying, he dreams of his future incarnation as a pilot in the Queens Flight. The priest shares his dream, and wonders if a corner of the veil has not been lifted for him.

Slide Rule: The Autobiography of an Engineer 1954

The Autobiography of Nevil Shute covers his childhood when his father was head of the Irish Post office, his education, his job as an engineer on the R 100 airship project, and the aircraft company he subsequently formed. It focuses primarily on the competition between the Royal Aircraft Establishment and a private company where Shute worked on R-100.

Requiem for a Wren (The Breaking Wave) 1955

One of Shute's darkest books; Alan Duncan had flown in the R.A.F., and returns to his ancestral home on an Australian sheep ranch, wounded and disillusioned by his experiences. There he must confront a mystery: why Jessie Proctor, a housekeeper on the station, took her life days before his return. He finds her diaries, reads them, and gradually discovers her secret sadness.

Beyond the Black Stump 1956

A young geologist from Oregon, Stanton Laird, meets Molly Regan, an Australian girl, during a hunt for oil on her father's million-acre sheep station. Molly leaves Australia and goes to America to get to know Stanton better.

On the Beach 1957

Shute's best-known novel. The story of how people in Australia react to their approaching death from radioactive clouds caused by a nuclear war. Captain Dwight Towers, the commander of an American nuclear submarine, arrives in Australia with his crew, the last survivors from the northern hemisphere. He and Moira, an Australian beauty, share their last days together in a chaste relationship, as Dwight remains true to his wife who died in the early days of the war.

The Rainbow and the Rose 1958

Johnnie Pascoe, a seasoned pilot, crash-lands on the Tasmanian coast. Ronnie Clarke, a man Pascoe taught to fly, attempts to fly in a doctor through rough weather to help the critically injured Pascoe. Later, Clarke has a series of strange dreams which recount Pascoe's life from his earliest days as a pilot, through his loves and career, and on to his present problem.

Trustee from the Toolroom 1960

Keith Stewart designs and makes miniature working models and earns a very modest living writing about them in a model makers' magazine. He must drop everything when his niece's parents are lost at sea, and travel across the world to a Pacific atoll in order to fullfill his duties as trustee. He has little money, and must trust to fate for success in his quest.

Nevil Shute Norway