This is another of Nevil Shute's novels set in England during World War II. It's a period of time that fascinates me. Times were terrible, but somehow the British muddled through and eventually entered a new era in which they could once again thrive. The plot is a bit more convoluted than most other Shute books I've read, and also rather more blood thirsty. Not my favorite of his works. But still rather engaging.
Basically we have four protagonists, or perhaps five. Charles Simon is an Englishman who was brought up in France, sent to public school in England, and then returned to work in France as a cement engineer. He is fluent in both French and English and, although his accent and word choices are slightly off, can readily pass as one or the other. When the Germans get too close to where he is working, he manages to escape to England and gets taken on by the military.
Oliver Boden is the son of a wool spinner. He takes rather a fancy to sailing. His life-long friend and, for a short time, spouse, is killed in a German air raid over London. He wants revenge.
Michael Rhodes is the son of a doctor who died while Rhodes was still young. Despite some hard times, he did make it through school and procured a job as a chemist. He loves mixing up concoctions, whether it be skin-restoring face cream, or something more akin to napalm.
John Colvin is a sailor who has bummed around here and there. He was living in Seattle when the war broke out and immediately found his way to England so as to sign up with the Royal Navy.
Then, we have Commander Martin, who is sometimes narrator of the story, and who is nominally the head of the war-time operations described.
So, the British have a French fishing vessel in one of their ports. At the suggestion of Simon, they outfit it for some covert war intrigue. Simon thinks that the people of Brittany will turn against their local German occupation force if some horrific acts of defiance can be accomplished. They decide to use the French fishing vessel to insinuate itself into the fishing fleet and then rain fire on the few German boats "guarding" the fishermen. So, they get the boat outfitted with a flame thrower, and Rhodes concocts a rather deadly pyrotechnic mix to spew onto the Germans. Bowden is the overall head of the operation, and Colvin provides expertise in navigation and general seamanship. Something like that.
Like all Shute books, it was well plotted, rather interesting, and, of course, somewhat nerdy on the science, engineering, and sailing parts. It was a bit more blood thirsty than I would like, but then I spent too much time in Sunday School as a youngster.