By Clare Mackintosh
368 pp. Sourcebooks Landmark. $26.99.
Mina and her husband, Adam, a cop, are going through a rough patch, and their adopted daughter, Sophia, who’s 5, is struggling with attachment and attention issues. So for Mina, a flight attendant, working a 20-hour nonstop flight from London to Sydney is something of a break — until, a few hours into the trip, terrifying things begin to happen. First, on the galley floor, she finds an EpiPen with her daughter’s name on it; and then, a passenger dies of an apparent heart attack and a photo of Sophia falls out of his wallet.
“Someone took this through a window,” Mina thinks, noting how fuzzy the details are. Seconds later, looking closely at her daughter’s clothing and mismatched ponytail holders, she realizes the picture was taken that very morning. That’s bad enough, but it’s about to get worse: Sorting through passengers’ dirty meal trays, Mina finds a note from someone — OK, it’s a terrorist who’s protesting climate change — that begins: “The following instructions will save your daughter’s life.” (Suspend any disbelief you have about how, out of all the flight attendants, Mina is the one who spots the note.)
She is told that she’ll have to allow a passenger access to the cockpit. “If you do it, your daughter will live. Don’t, and she will die.” Mina is paralyzed. “I never thought it would be like this,” she muses. “I imagined a loaded gun, a knife to a colleague’s throat. … I’d imagined the terror, the panic, the loss of control. I never imagined it would feel so lonely.”
Will she or won’t she? Mackintosh does a much better job getting inside her character’s head than either Newman or Fitzek; we’re right there with Mina as she agonizes over what to do. The action cuts between her inside the jet and Adam and Sophia at home in England, where very bad things are happening. Every few chapters there’s a page from one of the passengers on the plane, too. Multiple viewpoints have a tendency to derail a full-throttle narrative, but Mackintosh is a pro. She pulls it off.
I could have done without some of the gratuitous violence in the book — death by corkscrew, that kind of thing — but there’s no bloodshed in the final scene in the book, which almost made me sick as I read it. I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.