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9 Reviews
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neglected gem!, 18 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
This and Balchin's masterpiece, the shamefully out of print Darkness Falls From The Air constitute two gems of British wartime literature. I won't go into details other than that The Small Back Room tells the story of bomb disposal expert Sammy Rice, his frustrations, failures and occasional triumphs. Balchin is a wonderfully honest writer and his depictions of middle class life in wartime are without equal.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War-time reality - office politics and real danger, 15 Jan 2006
By 
Post Mortem Books (Hassocks,Sussex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
A magnificent little volume which brings together the immediate danger of death by falling bombs and the tediousness and intra-office rivalry of Civil Service politics. Sammy Rice is working in a research department (having lost a foot in WW1) working out new methods on such things as anti-tank guns and mortar bombs. But he is also subject to the Civil Service code of ofice politics even in war-time and the story charts the journey of one, honest if flawed man, to a new understanding of himself and where he fits in to the greater scale of things. The scenes involving the bomb dismantling are some of the sweatiest in all war literature. Great novel!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent story which ought to be much better known, 31 July 2007
By 
Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Paperback)
This excellent 1943 novel tells the story of a boffin in wartime. The tale is told in the first person by Sammy Rice. Having lost a foot between the wars (possibly as a result of a World War one injury though this is never stated), Sammy is spending the second world war working in the small back room of the title, studying possible weapons for the Army and trying to avoid getting sucked into noxious office politics. Because his girlfriend happens also to be his boss's secretary, Sammy has a good idea of all the games being played by his colleagues, but has no idea what to do about them.

After the first part of the book describes the arguments within and between various research groups and bureaucrats within the ministry of defence, Balchin brings the reader in touch with a bump with the reality of the war they are fighting. Sammy has to interview a little boy who is the first surviving eye witness of a new type of Nazi booby-trap; which has just blown his sister to bits.

While his superiors continue to fight their political battles, often with dire results, Sammy and one or two of his friends spend some of their time trying to work out how to protect people from these nasty little booby traps dropped by the Luftwaffe.

And then Sammy and a colleague have a chance to put their theories about the booby traps into practice - by defusing two of them themselves ...

The mine defusing scenes at the climax of the book are gripping and terrifying. The book as a whole is first rate, and you can see why John Betjeman described Nigel Balchin as a "readable writer of genius."

There was also a contemporary film version (Link:The Small Back Room [DVD] [1949]).

Strongly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great tale and an insight into WW2 politics, 28 Jun 2008
By 
This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
I picked up a 1944 edition of this book from my father's bookshelves, and started to read it without knowing its pedigree. The further I read the more I was hooked. I discovered that Balchin was a pioneering Industrial Psychologist, and his understanding of the intrigues of large organisations and the complex motives of ambitious but often ineffectual people shines through. This aspect alone makes the book worth reading today, but also it's a great story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Machin's best war novel?, 13 Jun 2013
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
Nigel Balchin was a very popular author, particularly during WW2 and the period immediately after it, and this book was one of his novels that was made into a successful film. He is little read nowadays, and his books are mostly out of print, but fortunately the publishers have had the good sense to reprint this volume, one of Balchin's best, possibly the best.

It is the story of Sammy Rice, an honest but flawed man, during a short period of the war when he is working (in the `small back room' of the title) on a range of possible new military devices in a small research group in one of the many such organizations that sprang up during the early years of the war. The chain of command governing such centres had not yet been established, so the group is torn between trying to satisfy the wishes of both the military and various competing groups of civil servants and politicians in Whitehall. These mini power struggles and the inevitably `turf wars' and skirmishes that result, leave Tommy confused. He is aware of what is happening because his girlfriend is the secretary of the group's ambitious senior administrator, but because of his personality he is unable to influence events. It is a wonder that the book was published at all during the war; unless it was felt it would help the case of those who were trying to rationalize the organizational structure of science in the country.

The real war intervenes with the discovery that the Germans are dropping a new type of booby-trapped bomb. It has already killed several children, and the description of Tommy interviewing the brother of one young girl who had been killed is very moving. The race is on to defuse a live bomb. When two intact bombs are found, Tommy's knowledge of fuses makes him an obvious person to attempt this, and he is enthusiastic to try. The mine defusing scenes on a cold beach in Wales at the climax of the book are superbly realistic and utterly spellbinding.

The story is told partly in the first person, and partly through dialogue. Both are very realistically done, given the language conventions of the time. The former allows us to see how Sammy sees himself and how he comes to accept his shortcomings. The dialogues quickly and precisely define the personalities of the other characters in the novel. At the end, with major changes being made at the research centre, not to Tommy's liking, we are left uncertain what the future holds for him. But we do know that he has accepted himself for what he is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars engaging novel of war time science and politics, 11 Aug 2012
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
Nigel Balchin started the war as a psychologist in the personnel section of the War Office before transferring to the Army Council, eventually becoming Deputy Scientific Officer. By the end of the war he'd risen to the rank of Brigadier General. His insider knowledge of how science was being employed to help the war effort gives The Small Back Room an authentic feel. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised that the book had been published during the war given that he paints a fairly negative picture of Whitehall politics, the organisation of the scientific research, and relations between the civilian scientists, the civil service and the army. It's not difficult to suspect the novel might have been written as a means to highlight how things needed to change. I found the story very engaging. Although told from a first person perspective, the story largely unfolds through dialogue with only a few reflective interludes. The conversations are exceptionally well written and give real insight to the nature of the main characters. And given this style it's easy to imagine that the book was relatively painless to adapt for the big screen, which it was in 1948. In general, the plot is highly believable and the petty politics and manoeuvrings of personal and inter-departmental rivalries are well done and will be familiar to anybody who works in a university or the civil service. Some of the emotional turmoil is a little overwrought, but otherwise a highly enjoyable read and I'd certainly be interested in watching the film adaptation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The backroom boys of WW2, 18 Mar 2011
By 
John Richard "camban99" (Hull, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
I bought this because it was recommended by Daniel Silva as a resource for his first novel which also explored the backroom boys' world set in WW2 (can't recall the title). This is an excellent, intriguing glimpse into that world of idiomatic characters who did so much for the war effort without recognition.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Delighted, 14 Nov 2013
By 
silver (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
I first read this book many years ago,and, over the course of time, it became lost. So I was pleased to see it offered on Amazon for a very reasonable price. The book arrived promptly and it's condition was better than I expected for a paperback. The packaging was neat and secure. I will be buying from this seller again.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vey good book, 6 Jun 2010
By 
I. P. Croad - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
I purchased this on spec, from a recommendation in a David Fiddimore book. I was worth it.
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The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
The Small Back Room (Cassell Military Paperbacks) by Nigel Balchin (Paperback - 12 April 2001)
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