A romantic fantasy about a troubled Air Force pilot and an aging Ava Gardner never gets off the ground due to wooden characters and dialogue.
This first novel by Rivers, an Air Force veteran, sports the conventions of a romance, albeit with the restraints one would expect from a book penned by a military gentleman with 21 years of service. The hero, Major Russell Jefferson, is a wounded bird. A survivor of divorce and duty in Vietnam that scarred him physically and emotionally, he lands (as the author did) in a diplomatic post in London. Uneasy in civilian life, Jefferson is a romantic loner who “turned the heads of the younger ladies” despite disfiguring facial scars. A chance meeting with the aging Hollywood star, the object of boyhood fantasy, promises to make London more fun, although her stilted dialogue (“It was the booze, baby”) and insistence on referring to her famous acquaintances by their full names drain credibility. But it’s Gardner’s erratic behavior, the result of documented alcoholism and illness, that turns even this worshipful friendship problematic as she first forgets a dinner invitation and then humiliates Jefferson at a party. Our Heathcliffe has no better luck at work. At the embassy, the bureaucratic General Eads is blocking approval of training flights for F-111 pilots. The general’s motives are political, but he hasn’t figured on the new Air Attaché staff member’s commitment to the pilots dependent on the training. Thanks in part to apparent lingering Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Jefferson takes Eads on, and although he gets the training flights approved, his career is endangered. However, his own nobility of purpose, and Gardner’s supreme sacrifice, save the day. While other pilots may retire to civilian jobs, “playing grab-ass with the stews and making big bucks,” Jefferson goes on to inspire a new generation “to fly and fight.”
Sweet longings and patriotism do not a satisfying novel make.