Many of us are dreaming of the day when we can step back on a plane and fly off into the wide blue yonder. After reading Clare Mackintosh’s latest standalone, you may find yourself having second thoughts. This award-winning author has made a name for herself with an array of standalone psychological thrillers, including her debut I Let You Go in 2015.
Mina is mother to adopted daughter Sophia and the wife of Adam. He is a police detective, she’s a flight attendant, and as we meet the couple their marriage is strained to near breaking point. Which is why Mina has surreptitiously changed shifts with a colleague and is about to be a member of the cabin crew on a history-making maiden flight – 20 hours non-stop from London to Sydney on a Boeing 777 with 353 excited passengers.
Those on board include celebrities, journalists, ordinary members of the public… and a group of undercover eco-warriors who are about to make the party atmosphere fall flat in spectacular fashion. They are protesting against unnecessary plane journeys and plan to hijack the plane and force the government to take draconian measures to curb the activities of airlines. It’s all about to go spectacularly wrong.
But back to Mina, who is a vital, if unwitting, cog in this horrific plan. Sophia has a nut allergy, and Mina is shaken to discover her daughter’s epi-pen in her flight bag. Could Sophia have put it in there by mistake? Or has Mina herself made the error in her rush to leave home? Then a passenger takes ill and dies on board, and as Mina checks his wallet she finds a photo of Sophia in there. It’s a candid shot, obviously taken through the school classroom window. And Mina can tell it was taken that very morning.
Alarm bells are now ringing inside Mina’s head and they chime in reality when the hijackers make their next move by sending a note to the increasingly harassed flight attendant. She must open the door to the flight deck to let one of their number inside – or Sophia dies. If Mina refuses, the plane will crash, killing everyone on board. It’s a harrowing dilemma and one that may well stop you in your reading tracks. If you were in the same situation, what would you do?
Meanwhile, back at home, Adam and Sophia find themselves in danger too and as they battle to survive we gradually learn what’s been pulling the couple apart. Themes of family, trust, loyalty and bravery run through Hostage like a vapour trail across the sky, and as Mackintosh ratchets up the tension, notch by excruciating notch, I found myself sitting ever-closer to the edge of my reading seat.
The narrative skips between Mina, Adam and a number of passengers on the flight, identified by their seat numbers. Each of the strands is finely rendered, and as the pace gathers they twist together and pull the reader in until there’s no escape. To be fair, you won’t want to leave anyway. There’s an all-encompassing sense of menace and fear reminiscent of the disaster movies of the 1970s and 80s and wherever you choose to read this book, be it in bed, on a beach or in the garden, it will begin to close in until you can almost feel the throb of the plane engines and kick the seat back of the passenger in front.
Mackintosh keeps up the momentum to the very end too, with a final jaw-dropping twist that I’m certain you won’t see coming so I advise you not to leave your seat until the warning lights go off. Hostage is one hell of a journey and a book that you may well want to finish in one sitting – but perhaps not the locked-room thriller to read when you next take to the air!
You’ll find Clare Mackintosh and more in our round-up of the best British female crime writers. There’s drama in the cockpit in Carolyn Kirby’s historical crime novel, When We Fall.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars