December 05, 2004

Pied Piper, by Nevil Shute

Two men sit in the library of a darkened London club. It's night-time; the air raid warnings sounded some time ago, and everyone else is in the basement shelter. The two men, one old, one young, sit in comfortable chairs and sip Marsala; and slowly, during the course of the night, the old man tells of his recent ordeal in France.

It was early in the war; the course of hostilities were not yet clear, and there was still hope of a diplomatic solution. The old man, a devoted fly fisherman, went to the Jura in France for a restful fishing vacation. He avoided the news the best he could, but one of the other guests was the wife of an English official at the League of Nations in Geneva; there is great concern that Hitler will invade Switzerland. She must return to her husband, but she prevails upon the old man to take her two young children back to England with him.

The old man sets off on the train to Paris with the boy and girl...just as Hitler invades France. They were to be in England the next day. It's going to take a little longer than that.

What follows is a gripping and reasonably harrowing story; the suspense is mitigated only by our knowledge that the old man will survive to tell his story. The detail, not surprisingly, is spot on.

Ian Hamet gave me this book two summers ago, when I happened to be in Ann Arbor on the occasion of my 40th birthday; and if he asks nicely (and sends me his mailing address in China) I might conceivably send him the new Lois McMaster Bujold when it comes out.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 5, 2004 07:56 PM