Picaresque tour of mid-America in the aftermath of the Great War, bringing together a fugitive, a jaded flier, an escapee former heiress—and a very cute puppy.
Henry Jefferson, nee Schuler, the orphaned son of German immigrants, is on the run after being accused—rightly or wrongly we won’t learn until the end—of murdering a young woman in Indiana. Making for Chicago, Henry runs into Gil, a former Army reconnaissance pilot with a past, and his Jenny biplane. A talented mechanic, Henry offers his services to Gil, who's reluctant to accept until his loner status is further threatened by Cora, who's fleeing her mother’s plans for her, specifically marriage into wealth to restore her ruined family fortune. Mostly at the behest of Cora, a self-taught stunt motorcyclist, the trio forms the Mercury’s Daredevils barnstorming act, named after an adorable stray mutt Cora teaches to do doggy tricks. As they make the circuit around rural Illinois, they encounter criminal elements linked to the illicit booze trade and narrowly escape gangsters, the Klan, and, especially crucial in Henry’s case, the law. When they cross the Mississippi, however, the amateurishness of their act—mostly featuring motorcycle versus airplane races—stands in stark contrast to the magnificence of Hoffmann’s Flying Circus, which features four airplanes in much better condition than Gil’s rattletrap and not just former reconnaissance pilots, but former fighting aces. Cora joins Hoffman’s, followed with reluctance by Henry and Gil after the Jenny is destroyed by a twister. Longueurs ensue as we wait to discover whether Henry really is a criminal, to what extent Gil’s guilt is justified, and whether some vulnerability lurks beneath Cora’s spunkily gorgeous tomboy exterior. The verisimilitude of the language suffers, as too much modern parlance, e.g. “repressed emotions,” “what’s not to like,” etc., jostles against expressions like “the bee’s knees” and “the cat’s pajamas.” The technical challenges of early aviation are described with far more coherence and confidence.
An engaging road saga that hits some potholes—or air pockets—along the way.