Henry Green was a remarkable man. For most of his life, he was an industrialist, running a company he inherited from his father. During World War II, as a middle aged man, he performed heroically as a fireman during the Blitz. And in the space of less than twenty years in his busy life, he wrote eight novels which rank with the best of twentieth century literature written in the English language. Then he stopped writing forever.
Although most of Mr. Green's work is readily available, for some reason Caught - a semi-autobiographical novel about his time with the London Fire Brigade - cannot be found except for used copies for sale at very high prices. Loathe as I am to recommend spending a fortune on a used paperback, in this case it's worth it (although, just a hint, you can find copies if you hunt hard enough for less than the prices here).
Mr. Green's story lacks action scenes - the only reference to a fire appears in the last twenty pages or so and even then it is written as a conversation with the protagonist's sister-in-law - but nonetheless gripping for that. The dynamics of the British class system is the theme of the book. Richard Roe is a upper class Englishman in a fire station full of Cockneys. Pye, the substation chief, (Pye/Roe - Pyro - is the only pun in the book) is in a leadership position for the first time in his life. To make matters more awkward, Pye's unbalanced sister once kidnapped the widowed Roe's son.
The chronology of the book extends from shortly before the war to the waning days of the Blitz, but most of the book takes place during the "Phony War." The story captures everyday people going about their mundane business. There are no heroes for most of the book because there is precious little to be heroic about, just waiting for the fires that may never come. Petty scandals and clumsy relationships dominate the text as Pye and Roe struggle to cope with their new duties.
But as the characters work through their lives in this insightful, moving, eloquent and subtly funny book, the reader gains a deeper understanding of the British people in World War II than he can acheive almost anywhere else. Frankly, if you can't find a copy of this book in the library or more cheaply, even $100 for a well loved paperback is a bargain if you calculate a book's value on the pleasure and education it provides you.