Delightful debut by retired physician Newton: a historical fantasy about two brothers who run away from home during WWII and buy an old streetcar that eventually helps England win the Battle of Britain.
Growing up on a big estate in Sussex, Duncan and Wilfred Scrutton see their parents only once a week, for lunch on Wednesdays. As a result of such isolation, partly, the boys grow exceptionally close. Duncan has a close call with a brain fever; he survives, but the disease ages him a good ten years and leaves him almost completely mute. After their mother elopes with her lover and their father descends into an abyss of depression and debauchery, the boys decide they’ve had enough of family life and run away. In London, they buy an old streetcar for two pounds, then for another ten shillings find a somewhat derelict horse to pull it. Horse-drawn trams had gone the way of the dodo by the late 1930s, and the brothers take advantage of a loophole in the franchise laws that allows them to run it without a license (which would never have been awarded to two boys in their early teens). To their own surprise, they’re a great success: With the cloud of war hovering over them, people become nostalgic for the old days and go out of their way to ride the boys’ tram. Eventually, Duncan and Wilfred are able to expand their business, even acquiring an electric tram in exchange for a rare butterfly they’ve caught. When the Germans begin their bombing raids in 1940, however, Duncan moves the tram to a pier on the Channel and converts it to a signaling station. He even manages to shoot down a Stuka with a catapult from the tram’s roof—a feat that makes the boys famous across the length of Britain and results in a visit from the King and Queen.
A charming fable written for adults: a marvelous portrait of the intersection between childhood innocence and grownup experience.