Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
The Hindenburg was the famous Nazi zeppelin that blew up just as it was about to land in New Jersey in 1937. Built to be a modern aviation miracle, and the last word in luxury travel, this incident was not only tragic, but like the 1936 Olympics, it was quickly a black spot on Germany's national pride, at the exact time when they were trying to show their superiority in every way, shape or form possible. More importantly, why it blew up remains a mystery to this day. However, through the vivid imagination of Ariel Lawhon, we get a theory that until now, no one ever hypothesized, and thereby she turns history into a stunning mystery action novel!
Much like her previous novel, The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, Lawhon tells this story by spotlighting a select group of crew and passengers, with each chapter focusing on a different person. In this case, Lawhon chose the stewardess, the journalist, the navigator, the American and the cabin boy. This is where Lawhon truly shines - taking facts of real events and people, making up fictional relationships and actions and then combining it all into a mystery that is both true and imagined, with a similar mix of solutions. Furthermore, Lawhon knows how to add background information that sounds like a perfectly natural part of the action, and thereby makes even the real-life events sound even more like part of the fiction.
Of course, this wouldn't work if Lawhon didn't write this to perfection, with each character so carefully developed and well rounded that we are sure the relationships she describes must have been for real. In the author's note, Lawhon tells us that practically all of the survivors called everything that happened prior to the explosion as "uneventful," but Lawhon doesn't believe them. That's probably why Lawhon decided to fill the five days crossing Europe and the Atlantic with many interesting events. Furthermore, she includes some sleuthing on the part of some of the passengers and crew, as well. Lawhon must have poured over the manifests of the crew and passengers and while checking the facts for consistency, so she could put together a set of back-stories for each of the main characters and thereby place each one into her spiders' web of connections. Using this formula, one could almost say that Lawhon takes historical fiction to a completely new level.
If that wasn't enough, Lawhon uses a very carefully calculated pace with this book. At the beginning of the novel, the separate stories gently rise and slowly start to blend into each other through some slight back-tracking from focus character to focus character. As the flight gets underway, the characters float around each other, intermingling and parting, as if on a breeze. As the time of the explosion nears, the speed of the stories start to increase and by the time we get to the explosion itself, the pace builds to a frenetic climax. Then, in the aftermath, everything takes just the right amount of time to slow and cool down, as she finishes telling each of the various stories. As you can see, this pacing is the perfect mirror of the flight itself, and you might find your heart rate increasing as you get to the climax, as well as at a loss for breath until you get to the last few chapters.
The only drawback I can find in this book is that I'm not totally convinced that all of the after-story chapters were completely necessary, but their brevity made up any feelings of it being overly drawn-out. (Also, remember I read the uncorrected proof ARC, so they might have corrected this in the final version.) Still, this tiny niggle isn't enough for me to reduce my rating by even half a star, so I'm giving it a full five out of five and recommending this wholeheartedly!
"Flight of Dreams" by Ariel Lawhon, published by Doubleday, released February 16, 2016, is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me the ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.