Set in the late 1980s, a debut novel chronicles the unforeseen consequences of an ex-convict’s attempt to hijack a 747 flight from San Francisco to New York City.
Capt. Don Webber, a veteran aviator who has been married for 26 years, is looking forward to piloting a 400-plus–passenger Boeing 747 to JFK airport. It’s not so much the long flight that excites him as it is his scheduled rendezvous with his most recent lover, a sexually adventurous Pan Am flight attendant. But his plans of infidelity are thwarted by an ex-con named Guillermo Villas Guerrero, who has become entangled in an ill-conceived plot to hijack a plane to Cuba. Guerrero has mixed feelings about the scheme (“One moment, he felt the hijacking was going to be a snap, a piece of cake. The next moment he was terrified with recurring and rampant visions of failure. The result of his dreamed failure was always the same. He would fail. He would be caught. He would go back to prison”). Once in the air, he begins unraveling emotionally and eventually takes a cabin attendant hostage with a graphite handgun that he smuggled aboard, forcing his way into the cockpit. The situation devolves quickly from there. This thriller is comparable to the air disaster movies of the ’70s (Airport, Airport 1975, etc.). Stott adeptly creates three-dimensional and believable (albeit a bit stereotypical) characters whose various struggles and motivations help power the story forward. Director of security operations at San Francisco airport Robert Burns and senior dispatcher Frankfurt Lazlo Fielding come alive on the page, giving readers a glimpse into the pressure-packed and bureaucratic nightmare that working with the Federal Aviation Administration can be. Another of the novel’s strengths is paradoxically a weakness as well. The author is highly knowledgeable about aviation, and that expertise initially brings an undeniable authenticity to the story. But there are numerous sequences in which he goes into too much detail (such as explaining a phugoid oscillation curve), and these collectively detract from the tale’s narrative flow and negatively affect the momentum. But these issues have little impact on the overall reading experience.
An aviation page-turner that delivers a diverse and well-developed cast of characters, nonstop action, and unrelenting tension; buckle up and prepare for a wild ride.