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Most Secret by Nevil Shute

Most Secret (1945)

by Nevil Shute

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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.
( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
A story basically four men involved in a covert operation against the Germans using a fishing boat with a flame thrower.

This is not my favourite Shute book. I found his use of the first tense confusing at times and he bounces between characters at times and sometimes I thought I was reading about one character and not realizing he switched to another.

The story is a bit predictable as you are led step by step, organizing the crew along with their back stories, then the actual attacks. This book has a bit of romance which is a feature of most of his books but in this case it is quite a bit muted.

overall it is a decent read but not his best in my opinion ( )
  Lynxear | Mar 17, 2019 |
written in 1942 but censored until 1945
It is narrated by a commander in the Royal Navy, and tells the story of four officers who launch a daring mission at the time when Britain stood alone against Germany after the fall of France. Genevieve is a converted French fishing vessel, manned by four British officers and a small crew of Free French ex-fishermen, armed only with a flame thrower and small arms. Their task is as much psychological as military: to show the Germans that they will one day be beaten back.
  MasseyLibrary | Mar 6, 2018 |
Six-word review: Authentic detail makes wartime drama vivid.

Extended review:

A born Englishman who has spent most of his life in France is able to pass for a citizen of both countries. In German-occupied France during World War II, this ability coupled with his industrial knowledge lights a fuse that has the potential to affect the outcome of the war.

Most Secret tells the story of a series of high-risk clandestine operations conceived and executed by people who don't look like heroes, seizing opportunities presented to them and doing their duty to the utmost. Shute's low-key, matter-of-fact style doesn't glorify the actors or dramatize heroics. Instead, it shows us people much like ourselves, doing what they do for reasons of their own, standing by their convictions and doing their part with no assurance that it will ever make a difference.

The plot involves a fishing boat named Geneviève that is commissioned into service in a secret operation to take out a German Räumboot in the harbor of a small French town. A man named Charles Simon, French by adoption but born and educated in England, is the key to this operation, aided by a crew of men with various strong motivations for taking part. One of them is a highly skilled industrial chemist who puts his specialized knowledge to use in arming a flame thrower.

Shute spends many pages giving us intimate backstories on the main characters, none of whom talks very much, if at all, to the others about what brought him to where he is and what he's doing. We see them work together, and we have the quiet private knowledge of each man's story--an approach that lends the tale distinction and poignancy.

Another reviewer has said that using a ranking naval officer as narrator keeps the main characters at arm's length. I disagree. I think it allows us to be told their personal histories from a practical yet sympathetic point of view without their disclosing them to one another. Shute uses a third-party device like this in a number of his novels, and I think it affords them both greater scope and a focused interpretation without resorting to a third-person omniscient point of view. It's part of what gives them their remarkable feel of authenticity.

The amount of technical detail exceeds what I've encountered in other Shute novels, and, perhaps for that reason, the level of human warmth does not seem as high; but there are still engaging characters whose courage we can admire without feeling that their feats are beyond the reach of ordinary people. I enjoyed the novel and found few faults to criticize, but it wasn't a moving tale to equal A Town Like Alice or On the Beach, just to name two.

I suppose this novel might have done quite a lot to inspire patriotism and devotion to duty among the English and perhaps even the French during wartime, and it certainly took a fierce stand with respect to the Germans; but (for reasons I don't know) it was censored and withheld from publication in 1942 and not released until 1945, according to a Wikipedia article.

From Wikipedia I also learned that Geneviève is the patron saint of Paris, a symbolic point that would not have been lost on his original target audience.

If Shute were alive today, there's one thing I'd like to tell him, having read several of his novels now, all or most of which include one or more American characters--namely, that Americans do not (and, I hope, never did) have a habit of prefacing their utterances with "Say." If he knew someone who spoke like that, I don't quite see why he felt compelled to inflict that grating habit on his readers. ( )
3 vote Meredy | Dec 1, 2015 |
An entertaining tale of a fictional exercise carried out during the second world war. A bit bloodthirsty, but a good read if you enjoy a ripping sea yarn. ( )
  cazfrancis | Jan 13, 2015 |
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A burnt child dreads the fire.
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So much happened in the two years that I spent at the Admirality, I had a finger in so many pies, that I have found it difficult to say exactly when it was this thing began.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0884113191, Hardcover)

In their trusty fishing boat Genevieve, armed with only a flame thrower and limited ammunition, a small group of officers and men take a stand against the might of the German army after the fall of France in World War II. This is classic Shute: a thrilling adventure about the heroism of ordinary men that will keep you on the edge of your seat, cheering them on.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:07 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Genevieve is a converted French fishing boat, manned by British officers and a small crew of free French ex-fishermen, armed only with a flame-thrower and a few arms. They carry out their daring attack on German boats off the Brittany coast.

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