Book Review – Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Pages: 381
Published: 22nd June 2021
Genre: Thriller

The atmosphere on board the inaugural non-stop flight from London to Sydney is electric. Numerous celebrities are rumoured to be among the passengers in business class and journalists will be waiting on the ground to greet the plane.

Mina is one of a hand-picked team of flight attendants chosen for the landmark journey. She’s trying to focus on the task in hand, and not worry about her troubled five-year-old daughter back at home with her husband. Or the cataclysmic problems in her marriage.

But the plane has barely taken off when Mina receives a chilling note from an anonymous passenger, someone intent on ensuring the plane never reaches its destination. Someone who needs Mina’s assistance and who knows exactly how to make her comply.

There surely cannot be too many thrillers where the stakes are quite so sky-high as this, and not just because most of it is set on an aeroplane. Told with a clever use of multiple perspectives, the suspense is breathtaking throughout what is an intense and multi-layered story, as the author executes a dark and often chilling concept with an eye-catching degree of boldness.

Make no mistake, this book is rather scary in places and keeps you very much on edge, delivering so many of the things you want from the thriller genre in the process. There is not one but two life-or-death scenarios where time is running out, and these are counterbalanced with strong character development and thought-provoking themes, all adding up to something which is truly gripping.

The first non-stop commercial flight from London to Sydney is soon to take place and Mina, who gave up her ambitions to become a pilot years earlier, is acting as a senior member of the cabin crew. While she is away, she leaves her daughter Sophia in the care of her estranged husband Adam, a police officer who is facing turmoil in both his professional and personal life.

With journalists and social media influencers on board to chart its groundbreaking progress, World Airlines flight 79 begins serenely and Mina gets to know several of the passengers in economy and business class, but everything changes when a man mysteriously dies. When searching his personal effects in order to identify him, Mina finds a picture of Sophia.

Back at home, Adam sustains nasty injuries after being attacked on his doorstep and then another disturbing revelation sees him and Sophia locked in the basement. When Mina receives a message to say that Sophia will die unless she cooperates in a hijack, she is left in the impossible situation of having to choose between her daughter’s life, and those of everyone on board flight 79.

The sense of urgency running through the plot is utterly relentless, with full-on tension and an ongoing unpredictability for what is going to happen next. It gets increasingly sinister as the hijacking attempt plays out, becoming impossible to know who to trust as unsettling scenes ensue and the fear among the passengers feels palpable.

Then we have the connection between what is happening on the flight and the situation Adam and Sophia find themselves in back home, which is almost equally desperate. It adds complexity to the story as well as an extra layer of trepidation, aided by some really strong character building along the way. The only issues with the plot as a whole were a few far-fetched elements in Adam and Sophia’s sections, and some questions at the end which were left unresolved.

That said, there are some very good ideas, particularly in the way it explores the topic of climate change and how the perspectives are constructed. It is mainly narrated by Mina and Adam in the first person, but some chapters early on are told from the perspectives of certain passengers on flight 79, and later it emerges that they have something in common. It is extremely intelligent writing.

Mina is a likeable character in the main and is given a lot of depth thanks to a powerful backstory, while in the present most of the decisions she makes are entirely understandable given the position she is in. From her perspective we get to know many of the passengers too, and is interesting how they respond to seeing their lives come under threat, such as Derek’s change of outlook and Jamie’s prejudice.

At the beginning it seems like Adam is going to be a bit of cliché, but luckily that is not the case. He is rather hapless and makes all kinds of foolish decisions, though at least there is some redemption for him in the end as he forms a bond with Sophia, who is arguably the most fascinating character of all. She is highly precocious, both in an endearing way and a somewhat frightening way. As for Becca, she is a good portrayal of a young person who has been badly influenced, although some of her actions felt a little contrived.

One of the things that makes this book so intense is that the settings are very claustrophobic, with the narrow aisle of the aeroplane where just about any one of the passengers could be a hijacker being made to feel terrifying. Then we have the basement where Adam and Sophia are being kept in the dark. It means there is no let-up in either storyline.

Even after all the edge-of-the-seat drama that takes place, one of the biggest talking points is the ending, which is in some ways brilliantly thought out but will also divide opinion. It moves forward by three years – a surprisingly long time – and first contains a major twist that you may or may not see coming, before the real bombshell in the final few lines that makes your jaw drop.

Overall, this is a dark and explosive thriller which never lets up in terms of urgency and tension, yet still manages to deliver a well developed and wide-ranging story. Except for a few minor faults, it is a wonderfully compulsive read that will not be forgotten in a hurry. And if one other thing is for sure, it will make you almost scared to board an aeroplane anytime soon.

This book is quite unsettling in places and there are some inevitable content warnings that go with it. The most obvious one is the hijacking attempt, but it also contains violence and injury detail, descriptions of sexual assault, racism, and the false imprisonment of a child.

Do be aware of that before reading the book if these things might cause an adverse reaction.

A very good thriller, and definitely Clare Mackintosh’s best since her debut I Let You Go. I felt completely immersed by the tension throughout and loved how the narratives were used.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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