Another gem by Nevil Shute. This time, we're dealing with an investment banker, Henry Warren. He's rather a workaholic, and his lively, entitled spouse is carrying on an affair with a "black man", which in this instance is an Arabian prince, or perhaps a Pakastani one. At any rate, not a "black man" by modern reckoning, by which we mean someone whose origins trace to sub-Sahara Africa (Yup, the Brits were pretty racist 75 or so years ago). When, on a business trip to Paris, he sees his spouse dining with the "black man", he resolves to divorce her, unless she agrees to give up her "gay" life and retire to boredom in the country. She, of course, is unwilling to do that.
Shortly thereafter, Warren, feeling run down and depressed, heads north for a bit of walking. He has an attack of something in his gut (twisted intestine I believe) and ends up in the hospital of a small city. He poses as another of their charity cases, an out-of-work itinerant clerk. The time is 1934, and everyone is out of work.
This particular town was once a thriving center of ship building. "Did you know that seven destroyers from the shipyard fought in the Battle of Jutland?" is a common refrain. But the shipyard, local rolling mill, and mine have all shut down some five years previously. The town and all its inhabitants are run down, both physically and emotionally. Mortality is exceptionally high at the hospital, and it is despair, rather than poor medical attention that is killing the patients off.
Warren befriends the "Almoner" at the hospital, which I think is likely the social worker who deals with the charity patients. Through her, he learns about the town and its troubles and resolves to do something about it, but quietly if possible. Along the way, we are introduced to some international corruption and intrigue, things that always seems to be a part of high finance. We also have a budding romance between the "Almoner" and Warren, but done in the Shute style of two people developing a strong friendship. None of this jumping ino bed stuff like modern literature. Personally, I think the Shute style is more appropriate for building lasting relationships.
Anyway, it's a good book. Perhaps a bit calm for those whose taste lies more with warriors, plagues and gore. But it is an apt commentary on the lives of real people in 1934, but the book's concerns also still mostly true today.