An Agatha Christie–style page-turner exploring the unsolved mystery of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion.
As Lawhon (The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, 2014) charmingly explains in her Author's Note at the end of this novel, "If you're going to call bullshit on historical events, you'd best have a good theory to offer as an alternative." What she questions and upends in her speculative version of what happened between the takeoff of the Hindenburg from Frankfurt, Germany, on May 3, 1937, and its disastrous landing three days later in Lakehurst, New Jersey, is the assertion made by survivors that it was "an uneventful flight." Building on a dense scaffolding of biographical and historical fact, Lawhon invents personalities and relationships for key passengers, chooses from the extant theories about what caused the fire, and spins it all into a web of airborne intrigue. Each section is labeled for a different character. "The Stewardess" is Emilie Imhoff, a capable and lovely young widow who's beginning to return the devoted affections of "The Navigator," Max Zabel. "The Journalist" is Gertrud Adelt. She's traveling with her much older husband, her press card has recently been revoked by the Nazis, and she's missing her baby son terribly, but she's distracted from her worries by suspicions of a bomb threat as well as by a scheming, sketchy character called "The American." Then there's the adorably awkward 14-year-old "Cabin Boy," Werner Franz, whose many responsibilities include taking care of a mysterious unclaimed dog kept in a crate in the cargo hold. Werner's budding romance with a passenger his age is one of the plotlines that amps up the anxiety about who will be among the 62 who survive the explosion and who among the 35 killed. As the disaster inches closer with every chapter—each begins with a countdown in days, hours, and minutes—Lawhon evokes the airborne luxury of the ship—the meals, the cocktails, the smoking room, and the service—in such detail that you end up feeling a little sad that the stately flight of the Hindenberg marked the end of passenger travel by airship forever.
A clever, dramatic presentation of a tragic historical event. Suspenseful and fun.