Henry Warren's success in banking is at least partly the result of his careful assessment of the risks of investments and his single-minded pursuit of profit. He doesn't undertake risky loans, especially during the depression. When a town near London, his bank's home city, seeks a loan to develop land that could provide needed jobs for its citizens, he refuses.
Warren's life begins to unravel. He separates from his wife. He is unable to sleep. His grueling work schedule is affecting his health. Finally, on doctor's orders, he takes a walking vacation in the north of England. During the vacation he collapses, and is treated at hospital in the town of Sharples. Brought in by a truck driver, his wallet lost, Warren is taken for an out-of-work clerk tramping around the country seeking employment. He allows the hospital staff and patients to believe this. As he talks to them and sees how they live, he begins to understand the plight of workers who are literally starving to death in the hospital's wards. Since the town's main industry, a shipyard, closed, many of the workers are living on the dole with but five shillings a week for food. Shaken, he returns to London with an understanding that his bank can do some good for these people.
Warren, using his own money, buys the shipyard, and immediately sells it to a dummy corporation that will run it. To get orders for ships, he bribes officials in the country of Lavaetia. His bank is financing an oil pipeline to a Lavaetian port,from which the oil will be shipped. He twists enough arms and spreads enough bribe money to get the order for tankers placed at his yard.
As he tells the hospital's almoner, Alice McMahon, “it's not going to be very easy to get Sharples going. Nobody's going to get that yard working again and keep his hands clean.”
The yard reopens, and nearly 2,000 workers are hired as work on the tankers proceeds. Success breeds more success, and other orders begin to roll in. Warren becomes something of a local hero, but even as the town comes back to life, he faces charges of securities fraud and the possibility of a prison term. Yet he believes even prison might be worth it, given his role in redeeming a ruined city.
The review of this Book prepared by David Gordon
JayZee on 9/23/2014 8:56:40 PM says: My father was a big fan of Neville Shute, and I have inherited his collection. This novel did not seem particularly appealing, but it captured my attention immediately - it has as much relevance to 2014 as to 1934. Henry Warren is a complex character, with his own set of ethics and sense of morality - Machiavellian, but with good intentions - and happy to go down the road to Hell. You don't know whether to love him or hate him ... I like that sort of conundrum.