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Literature / Trustee from the Toolroom

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1960 novel written by Nevil Shute in which Keith Stewart, a mild-mannered staff writer for a model engineering hobby magazine, crosses continents and moves mountains to regain a lost fortunenote  for his niece.

This book contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Family: Two of them. Keith and Katie; John, Joanna and Janice.
  • Amateur Sleuth: The model engineer Keith Stewart is this, for a real-world engineering problem rather than a crime.
  • Covers Always Lie: The first edition cover shows a man and a girl on a tropical island. Keith's niece never leaves England.
  • Due to the Dead: Keith erects gravestones for his sister and her husband on the uninhabited island where their yacht was wrecked, and buries one of the steel eggs he made for Janice next to the grave on her behalf.
  • Heroic Vow: Keith Stewart may not look much like an epic hero but he takes his duty as the trustee for his niece very seriously.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Julie Perlberg, personal assistant to Sol Hirzhorn, and his illegitimate granddaughter.
  • Justified Criminal: Both Keith Stewart and his brother in law John Dermott are portrayed as upstanding citizens. Nevertheless, both take it for granted that Dermott is justified in smuggling diamonds into Canada in order to give his family a financial start in their future home. Truth in Literature, as the post-war regulations limiting the amount of wealth that could be taken out of the UK were widely evaded by otherwise law-abiding people. The trope also applies to Stewart’s efforts to get the diamonds back from their place of concealment in the wrecked yacht on the other side of the world.
  • Open Secret: The solicitor, Mr Carpenter, doesn’t seem in much doubt about what was really going on.
  • Power of Trust: The premise of the whole story is the trust placed in Keith Stewart by his sister and her husband to look after their daughter. While they never doubted that he would act honourably, until the situation demanded that he rise to the occasion neither they nor he guessed how capable he would be. Also, the trope is shown in the way that Stewart’s articles for Miniature Mechanic magazine serve as a passport of trust for him to gain the help of a worldwide community of model engineering hobbyists.
  • Serious Business: Model engineering is this for many of the characters. This is the book of the trope in its most benign form.
  • Shown Their Work: The author had a parallel career as an aeronautical engineer and was also a model engineer in his spare time. The process of engineering, described step by step, is almost as much the hero of the book as Stewart himself.
  • Simple-Minded Wisdom: Jack Donnelly is semi-literate and somewhat simple-minded. He can also hand-build a boat and sail it over thousands of miles of ocean by following aeroplanes or seabirds.
  • Take Care of the Kids: Keith Stewart’s sister and her husband ask Keith and his wife Katie to look after their daughter Janice for six months while they sail to Canada – and forever, if anything happens to them, as it does.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Sol Hirzhorn. He’s a tough businessman, but quite willing to use his business clout to do right by those he thinks deserve it.
  • Working-Class Hero: Keith Stewart started as a fitter. He is fond of his sister, a former chorus girl who married an aristocratic naval officer, but never envied her rise in social and financial status. He loves his job as a writer for Miniature Mechanic but knows he could have earned more as a factory foreman.