This 1948 novel was one of the first adult books I read as a boy; remembering it fondly, I wanted to see how it stood up now. The brief answer: very well, although it shows its age. Such a book could never be published today, and in many ways that is a pity.
Nevil Shute Norway was an aircraft engineer by profession, and most of his novels (of which A TOWN LIKE ALICE is the best-known) touch to some degree on flying; in NO HIGHWAY, aircraft engineering is the entire background. The narrator, Dennis Scott, is head of a research department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, England. One of his scientists, a rather unworldly widower named Theodore Honey, is convinced that Britain's latest transatlantic passenger aircraft, the Reindeer, is liable to catastrophic metal fatigue in the tail after so many hours' flying time, and convinces Scott that all Reindeers must be grounded before they approach that maximum. Unfortunately, two aircraft have already reached the danger point. One has recently crashed in a remote area of Labrador, and when Honey is sent out to investigate, he discovers he is traveling in the other one.
Shute's strength is that he writes what he knows, straightforwardly and without frills. He assumes that the reader will be interested in the technology, and in the bureaucratic procedures that Scott must go through to convince the appropriate agencies of the danger. It is true that some of Honey's theories sound kooky, to put it mildly, and it is hard to believe that time-to-fracture is as predictable as he makes out. But in 1954, six years after the book was published, Britain's Comet fleet, the world's first commercial passenger jet aircraft, suffered a series of fatal accidents that were ultimately put down to metal fatigue; the episode essentially ended Britain's domination of the transatlantic market. That era was about to change anyhow; one of the pleasures of the book is to go back before the jumbo jet, when transatlantic aircraft has to refuel at places like Gander in Newfoundland, and carried only a few dozen passengers in easy luxury.
NO HIGHWAY is also a heart-warming love story. This requires some suspension of contemporary cynicism, for Shute's character painting (especially his women, often referred to as "girls") now seems rather simplistic, in common with many of the popular writers of his generation. They don't write them like that any more -- with one notable exception: I suspect that the popularity of Alexander McCall Smith (author of THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB) is precisely because he too writes in the simple emotional terms of his boyhood reading. If you want Smith's warmth applied to more boyish subjects, you might do worse than look into Shute.