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Thriller-writer Lynn (The Turncoat, 1976; The Factory, 1983) now fleshes out a tree story of the first black aviators to fly from Los Angeles to New York. In the heat and excitement of Harlem's Cotton Club in 1932, a white Virginia businessman declares that he will pay a thousand dollars to the first black man to cross the American continent coast-to-coast by air. An advertisement of the challenge reaches James Herman Banning, the first black aviator to be licensed by the Department of Commerce. Banning, a midwesterner barely making a living in the badly depressed flying business in California, puts together a ragtag syndicate and makes plans to fly a wrecked and reconstructed WW I surplus plane to New York. His mechanic and copilot is Tom Allen, one of the very few black aircraft mechanics. They're an odd pair. Banning is handsome, touchy, and ambitious. Allen is short, dumpy, accommodating, and domesticated. But their abilities are exceptional and well-matched. They need to be. The plane is primitive, and the financing is pay-as-you-go. This is not a Lindbergh flight--Allen and Banning have to make the trip in a series of legs, repairing the plane and begging for gas money everywhere they land. And when they at last bring the crippled plane into New Jersey, the reward fails to materialize and their triumph goes largely unnoticed. And the ignominy is not over, either. A sad story told unsentimentally. Very well done.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's