Review: The Tunnel, by Robert Byrne

An American engineer must overcome the objections of environmentalists as well as the machinations of terrorists to complete a tunnel under the English Channel on time and under budget.

Robert Byrne’s The Tunnel (1977) is an action-thriller in an engineering setting. This was Byrne’s first engineering novel. Writing in Behold My Shorts – The Best of Robert Byrne, Byrne explains:

I had quit my job as a trade magazine editor and was sitting in my backyard in Mill Valley, California, wondering if I could make a living as a novelist. What could I offer that other writers couldn’t? All I could think of was that I was a civil engineer and knew a lot about heavy construction. Writing in a notebook, I worked out a plot about an American construction company driving a tunnel under the English Channel from England to France, a heroic project that was being considered at the time.

Byrne’s agent helped him secure a $5,000 advance which funded a research trip to England. When Byrne delivered the manuscript, respected editor Tony Godwin took it home to read over the weekend. Godwin failed to show up at work Monday morning. Concerned co-workers got themselves let into his apartment only to find Godwin dead in his bead, Byrne’s manuscript and a stack of notes beside him. It took a month before a court released the notes. Byrne found an amazingly detailed list of his manuscript’s shortcomings.

After initial resistance, I was forced to admit to myself that every suggestion would improve the suspense, the pacing, and the characterizations. There aren’t many editors like that around anymore. He gave me a personalized crash course in how to write a novel; the five I wrote after that were better for it.

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