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Thorpe, Adam - 'Flight'
Hardback: 400 pages (May 2012) Publisher: Jonathan Cape ISBN: 0224089013

He ascended in the lift alone. Its merciless mirror showed a grim, pale face that he temporarily adjusted with a smile. In some ways he had been waiting for this episode from the moment he'd walked out of the deal in Istanbul, a couple of years back.

Cargo pilot Bob Winrush returns home a couple of days earlier than expected, flash floods having cancelled his final Zambia flight. He hadn't told his wife of his early return, thinking to surprise her. But it is Olivia who surprises him by being in bed with their neighbour Luke, the therapeutic masseur. Whether the sex is Tantric or not isn't the issue for Bob but the conversation remains civilised. Then Bob goes downstairs, pausing to collect his gun on the way and Luke takes off through the bathroom window. Clearly the fleeing lover has injured his ankle when Bob finds him on the lawn a little later but Bob explains the consequences of any further intimacy between Luke and Olivia and allows Luke to crawl off. Later still, standing next to his car in the driveway Bob fires a single shot skywards; it is the end of his marriage. Two years on sees Bob in the middle of a bitter divorce, working as pilot to an Emirati prince and living in a Dubai apartment block. But an Israeli journalist has been asking questions concerning both Bob and a certain arms deal from Bob's "freight dog" days just before he joined Sheikh Ahmed. It was a deal that Bob had walked away from when he realised the nature of the cargo and for whom it was destined; a thing a good freight-dog pilot should never do. However, the Sheikh explains to Bob that he cannot afford to be placed in a difficult position and reluctantly he must let Bob go. Already shaken by the loss of his job and the resurfacing of the Istanbul deal, Bob discovers that the logbook and diary covering that particular flight are both missing from his apartment. He knows that his past is closing in on him. He has no option but to start his own flight - away from danger and into a new kind of life.

Adam Thorpe, a prizewinning poet, playwright and novelist, has been described as a writer with a strong sense of "Englishness". His first novel ULVERTON won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and Thorpe has gone on to write novels that by all accounts blend themes of history, people and the particularity of place whilst occasionally jumping genre. So perhaps it is not surprising that his tenth novel FLIGHT is a thriller. And with globe-trotting pilot, Rob Winrush, as lead character FLIGHT does indeed carry its reader from place to place with an elegant eye for detail: the desert dust on the sills of a Dubai apartment; the newly screened estate that surrounds a once rural Worcestershire home; the horizontal rain and bleached grass of a Scottish island with its brief magical splashes of turquoise sea and white sand. Thorpe's writing is also witty. Rob Winrush delivers clipped one-liners with panache: "Never make a landing in the Congo forest in the rainy season unless you have floats in place of wheels," says Rob by way of explaining his badly scarred leg. His speech conjures up the laconic world of the fighter pilot. But Rob is also continually confronted by the consequences and dilemmas of his own morality and choices, not to mention his naivety as a man on the run. There is the conflict between the cardinal rule of the "freight-dog" pilots' club - never ask about the cargo - versus his attempts to remake relationship with his student son, a committed member of a protest campaign against arms dealing. And when Rob reaches the Hebridean Island of Scourlay there is the conflict between his own unthinking nature and the environmental concerns of the attractive conservationist that he meets there. But FLIGHT is more than a story of middle-England characters in a dilemma. It is a thriller that combines strongly observed and described characters from all over and all backgrounds who fill out the bones of the plot. With suspense building as Rob leaves Dubai and goes on the run, tracking the news of deaths amongst his fellow "Istanbul Deal" flight crew and trying to identify who is betraying his own whereabouts, Rob's difficulties multiply as he faces the problem of reinventing his identity in times of the all-pervasive internet presence; Google searches, tagged Facebook photos, and the personal histories of day to day blogging provide a constant threat to his undercover life.

FLIGHT is a balanced, subtle, funny but gripping read; not exactly blood-spattered, though deaths there are, but nevertheless spattered with the ambiguities of human behaviour and consequence set against the dark background of arms smuggling.

Lynn Harvey, England
September 2012

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 8/09/2012 14:09