5.0 out of 5 stars
A novel based on Amelia Earhart
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 8, 2020
Sydney M. Williams
“Her Last Flight,” Beatriz Williams
August 8, 2020
“I am Persistence, Olle. I am Curiosity. I am Heartbreak.
I am Survival. I am Recklessness and Perseverance. You can’t win.”
The narrator, Janey Everett speaking to Olle Lindquist
Her Last Flight, 2020
Beatriz Williams (1972-)
This novel is loosely based on Amelia Earhart and the mystery surrounding her disappearance. We visit Burbank, California where the heroine of this novel Irene Foster learns to fly. It was from Burbank that Ms. Earhart used to fly. We spend two weeks on Howland Island, a coral reef just north of the equator in the central Pacific, which was Earhart’s destination when she disappeared in July 1937. We travel to Guernica in April 1937, right after Germany bombed this small village in the Basque region of Spain, a horror depicted in Picasso’s eponymous painting. We meet historical characters like Stanley Bruce, Prime Minister of Australia and John Baird, Lord Stonehaven, Governor General of Australia.
Like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon women, Beatriz’s women are strong and determined. She has George Morrow (based on George P. Putnam who married Amelia Earhart in 1932) say to Foster, “The great story of our time isn’t this Volstead business; it’s the emancipation of the female sex.” We meet Irene Foster, who is based on Amelia Earhart, a “tall and athletic” girl, on the beach in Santa Monica in March 1928 where she surfs in the early morning. There she meets Sam Mallory, a famous pilot who surfs and flies out of an airport in Burbank. Irene falls in love with flying, and she falls in love with Sam.
As in all her books, there are different timelines – 1928, 1937 and 1947, with flashbacks to 1944 Paris where Janey Everett, the narrator of this story, was stationed as an army photojournalist. Janey, who is researching a story on Sam Mallory, follows a lead to Irene Foster. She tracks down the reclusive aviatrix to Hanalei, Hawaii (a small town on the north shore of Kauai). Irene had disappeared on a flight in 1937, somewhere in the western Mediterranean while participating in a solo round-the-world race. Now, living under the radar and avoiding all publicity, she is married to a pleasant, protective man, Olle Lindquist. While Janey narrates the 1947 timeline, the other timelines are excerpts from her journal, titled “Aviatrix,” which tells the story of Sam and Irene.
Janey’s persistence causes the retiring Irene to gradually open up. Her looks attract Leo, Olle’s son by a former marriage. Her journal provides the reader the background to the story. Beatriz is at her best when writing suspense: Irene’s emergency landing on Howland Island, minus one engine and without fuel; the German bombing of an airfield in republican-dominated Basque country in 1937, and surfing a killer wave” in Hawaii: “This monster rises up behind me and gathers me in its mighty jaws and spits me to shore in a jumble of board and bone and hair and salt water…” And she philosophizes: Janey, thinking back on her time in Paris, remembers lost loves: “You cannot call back those you have lost, however much your bones ache with missing them, however giant and mysterious the holes they leave behind.” Also, as in all her books, this one has a twist at the end, an O. Henry-like surprise, which I did not catch. But, if you read carefully, the clues are there. An exciting and enjoyable read.
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