When you talk of aviation history there is typically a certain cast of characters that make their inevitable appearance; The Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh.. the list goes on and is recognizable not just by aviation enthusiasts. I was stunned to learn then, upon randomly locking eyes with this bright yellow cover in a book shop, that a new book had been published about famous aviators I never knew, and covered two of my favorite subject matters: flying and true crime. It certainly felt like it was made for me.
I let it gather a small measure of dust in my "yet to read" pile (as most of my books do). When I did finally pick it up, I could hardly put it back down!
The story takes place in the roaring 20s and then on during the Great Depression. This sequence of historical eras almost perfectly describes our main character's story arcs in title alone. The twenties where a time of immense excitement and investment in aviation. Bold, daring aviators competed with eachother and tempted fate by taking on these tremendous record-breaking journeys in record-breaking time. The competition was fierce and the technology constantly developing, creating new possibilities, new firsts, new goals, and the spectators were absolutely drinking it up.
Enter our heroes, star-crossed Jessie "Chubbie" Keith-Miller and Captain Bill Lancaster; she, a bored Australian housewife with a thirst for adventure, he, an RAF veteran and ambitious aviator. They came upon eachother by happenstance and wasted no time in planning a record-breaking flight in a light aircraft from London to Australia. Following their journey peppered with misfortune and danger is an exciting and endearing read. Their personality types are quite pleasantly balanced. The quirky and upbeat Chubbie, starting her foray into aviation as a passenger soon becomes an aviatrix, and Captain Lancaster, a straight-cut honorable man seems to mellow out her character during their adventures together.
Life quickly takes a turn though, as they have reached their destination they were not quite ready to give up the high of record-breaking success. Searching, plotting, moving across the planet to a different country searching for their next attempt at high-flying glory finds them fighting the Great Depression and the population's waning interest in aviators and their increasing concern at putting food on the table. As times get tough, love grows and fades, alcohol flows, the cast of characters grows increasingly shady, and at the climax of it all, there is a mysterious violent death.
I really have to praise Corey Mead in his pacing and his prose. The book flowed extremely naturally and made you feel thick as thieves with the book's characters. Though some details of the story are not explained in detail, I must assume it was because factual details were not available and assumptions were not deemed acceptable. I found that the storytelling was well balanced in explanation of both the aviation feats, the relationship between characters, their descent into hardship, and the violence of the end. I truly felt a gamut of emotions.
Though the book felt totally complete, I felt compelled to learn more about these people and their case and have added a few more books on their subject to my wishlist, which should tell you how taken I am with it.
I would recommend this book to fans of aviation, history, the era, or even those who enjoy true crime or a little mystery. The aviation language in the book is not complex nor geared to pilots which makes it's appeal universal with such a stunning story.
It takes the saying "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll" to the roaring twenties and turns it into "love, liquor and aviation"!