Release date: June 23, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (8/10)
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Last Flight is a mystery/thriller novel written by Julie Clark and published by Sourcebooks Landmark on June 23rd, 2020. Clarke is a teacher who previously published a fiction novel titled The Ones We Choose in 2018, about family secrets and the struggle to know who we really are. The tagline for The Last Flight reads, “Two women. Two flights. Once last chance to disappear.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Claire Cook is the not-so-happily married wife of Rory Cook, son of the late, beloved senator Marjorie Cook and now head of the Cook Family Foundation. The Cook family is, as author Clarke divulges, “a political dynasty second only to the Kennedys” – both in power and financially. As Rory’s very-public wife, Claire spends her days presiding over foundation meetings, heading up charity events, and striving desperately (and futilely) to avoid upsetting her abusive husband. Although they are surrounded by constant help, everyone turns a blind eye to Claire’s bruises and injuries, and she feels more alone than she ever could have imagined – and controlled, down to every last moment of her day.
Now that Rory is getting ready to announce his decision to run for a Senate seat, and Claire is scheduled for an out-of-town meeting, she knows: this is her last chance to escape. She has a plan, and she’s prepared to put it into action, having precisely worked out every single detail. There’s only one flaw: Rory has changed her flight at the last minute, booked her for a different meeting, and – unfortunately for Claire – intercepted her “escape” package, complete with her fake ID, passport, cash, and a detailed letter to him explaining her disappearance.
The book references the #MeToo era, and it highlights the very real fear that women face when they decide to come forward and reveal the truth about abuse or rape.”
Claire is at the airport nursing her drink, and a paralyzing sense of terror and uncertainty, when a mysterious woman named Eva sits next to her and offers up the con of a lifetime: switching flights. Is this meeting suspiciously timed and too perfect to be merely coincidental…or is it kismet, and an amazing alignment of the fates? Both women have pasts they desperately need to escape, and both need a way to keep the dark forces in their lives from finding out where they’ve gone.
Impulsively, Claire makes the switch – and they each board the other’s plane. But after arriving in Berkeley with next to no money, and no plan or fake IDs in place, Claire learns that the plane Eva supposedly boarded for her has crashed into the Atlantic, with no survivors. She finds Eva’s home and takes shelter, desperate to move forward and forge her own path. However, Eva wasn’t leading a normal life…and Claire must come to terms with both her own demons, and those of the mysterious woman whose life she’s now living, in order to take her next step forward.
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first read by Clark, but I would definitely pick up any future thrillers by her. This was a quick-paced read, and one I finished very easily in 2 days (with two young kids and a full-time job, I should say) at a slim 302 pages, somewhat widely-spaced.
To be perfectly clear up front, this is NOT a murder-mystery; the progression of the plot depends not on unraveling events that have already occurred, but on trying to predict and understand what’s going to happen to these two women as they attempt to break free from their troubled pasts. The chapters switch back and forth between events happening to Claire in real-time, and events that happened to Eva in the six months prior to their meeting in the airport. This helps us establish the truth behind Eva’s life and why she was running, and lets us see the real-time consequences of Claire’s actions as they unfold after her escape.
The book references the #MeToo era, and it highlights the very real fear that women face when they decide to come forward and reveal the truth about abuse or rape. As Claire tells her friend, “In a perfect world, I’d hold Rory accountable. But I don’t have it in me to take on a fight like that. One that would go on for years, that would seep into every corner of my life and tarnish anything good that might come afterward. I just want to be free of it.” And while Eva’s story is more complicated, we are told that her once-hopeful future was completely derailed by a white male student – one who was protected by his money and privilege, even as he destroyed every facet of her life and the educational opportunity she’d fought so hard to attain.
As Claire and Eva both learn, there is freedom in truth-telling, and in trusting others and building a support network.”
This novel also touches on the complicit and willful ignorance of these types of abuse that are feigned by those surrounding men in power; the assistants and staff are themselves afraid of the consequences of speaking up, knowing they will likely lose everything for accusations that would be called baseless and lies. This lack of support, combined with the very-real fear of losing everything, is why some women would rather run than stand up and be counted. However, running away isn’t exactly the “easy” way out; Claire realizes she would be running for the rest of her life, saying, “I would never be truly free if I scurried away to hide under another rock. I’d be complicit in Rory’s abuse as long as I continued to protect him.”
As Claire and Eva both learn, there is freedom in truth-telling, and in trusting others and building a support network. Eva must learn to accept that true love and acceptance comes “without asking for anything in return.” Near the end of her own story, Claire muses, “For too long, I believed my voice alone wouldn’t be enough. That nobody would want to hear the truth and step in to help. But when I needed it most, three women showed up. … If we don’t tell our own stories, we’ll never take control of the narrative.”
In the end, after leaving desperate situations to find safety and protection, both women realize that their journeys have become a quest to find their own true identity. “Are we who we say we are, or do we become the person others see? Do they define us by what we choose to show them, or what they see despite our best attempts to conceal it?” Claire wonders. Both women have a hard time being vulnerable and telling people the truth about the darkest parts of their lives, and neither leaves this story without serious and very real consequences – but, in some small measure at least, they’ve discovered how strong they can be when fighting for themselves and the women surrounding them.