by Claire Mackintosh
368 pp. Sourcebooks Landmark. $26.99.
Mina and her husband, Adam, a cop, are going through a rough time, and their adopted daughter, Sophia, who is 5, struggles with attachment and attention issues. So for Mina, a flight attendant, working a 20-hour nonstop flight from London to Sydney is like a break—until, a few hours into the journey, terrible things start to happen. First, on the galley floor, she finds an EpiPen with her daughter’s name on it; And then, a traveler dies of a heart attack and a picture of Sophia falls from his wallet.
“Someone took it through a window,” thinks Mina, noting how vague the details are. A few seconds later, upon closer inspection of her daughter’s clothes and mismatched ponytail holders, she learns that the photo was taken that morning. That’s bad enough, but it’s about to get worse: Through the passengers’ dirty food trays, Mina finds a note from someone—well, it’s a terrorist protesting climate change—that begins. Happens: “The following instructions will save your daughter’s life.” (Suspend any disbelief about how, of all the flight attendants, Mina is the one who looks at the note.)
He has been told that he must allow a passenger into the cockpit. “If you do this, your daughter will live. Don’t, and she will die.” Mina is paralyzed. “I never thought it would be like this,” she says. “I imagined a loaded gun Key, the knife in the neck of a coworker. … I imagined the panic, the panic, the loss of control. I never thought it would feel so lonely.”
will she do it or not? Mackintosh does a lot better work inside his character’s head than Newman or FitzCall; We are right there with Meena as she is worried what to do. The action cuts to between her inside the jet and Adam and Sophia at home in England, where a lot of bad things are happening. Every few chapters there is also a page from the passengers of the plane. Many approaches have a tendency to derail a full-throttle narrative, but the Macintosh is a pro. She pulls it.
I could do without some unnecessary violence in the book—death by corkscrew, that sort of thing—but there’s no bloodshed in the final scene of the book, which almost made me sick as soon as I read it. I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.