Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go is one of the books I recommended most frequently. Clever, surprising, and moving, it satisfies on so many levels. Unfortunately, it set the standard for every Mackintosh novel I’ve read since, and the author has never achieved the same magical alchemy of suspense/story/characters and gotcha! twist of her début. Novel. Her latest offering, Hostage, starts off gangbusters. I was invested in the principal characters and the parallel plot lines converging as the novel progressed. I was all in. But the big reveal was such a dud! I recognize others might identify more strongly with this story for Reasons – but unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me. And once the author started to unravel all the threads, I just found myself frustrated with her answers.
I realize I’ve already gotten a bit ahead in my opening salvo, so let me backtrack a bit without spoiling the story for you. Mina, one of our narrators, is a flight attendant working on a highly publicized inaugural flight from London to Sydney. At work, Mina is focused and attentive to the needs of her passengers, but at home, she’s convinced her life is spinning out of her control. After their beloved nanny abruptly quit and walked out shortly after saying “You are nice woman. You not deserve crap like this,” Mina is convinced her husband Adam had an affair with her and that it ended badly. Despite his adamant insistence they were never lovers, Mina kicked him out. Adam is desperate for them to reconcile – and life as a single parent with their adopted daughter Sophia is challenging due to her attachment disorder. Her connection to Mina is intense and obsessive, while Adam struggles to hold Sophia’s attention or affection for any length of time.
When Mina wasn’t picked to work the London/Sydney flight, she didn’t tell Adam and instead swapped schedules with another flight attendant; she needed the trip and time away from Adam and Sophia to figure out how to move forward. Should she give Adam another chance? Did he cheat? Why? Is it okay to sometimes resent her difficult, challenging daughter? Does it make her a bad person? A bad mother? Mina needs the break to get her thoughts and feelings in order.
We’re underway. Seat belts off, passengers on their feet, bells already summoning drinks. It’s too late now. Too late to do anything about the voice in my head warning me not to take this flight. It’s my conscience, that’s all. My own guilt for engineering a place here, instead of staying home with Sophia, for being here at all, when life could have worked out so differently.
Too late or not, the voice persists.
Twenty hours, it says. A lot can happen in twenty hours.
Oh, Mina. You have no idea!
Early on, the restriction that limits the forward cabin private bar to first class passengers causes tempers to flare, but angry passengers are nothing new for Mina. She’s just sent an disgruntled economy passenger back to her seat when chaos erupts. A fellow flight attendant tells her a man is dead. After paging for a doctor – who promptly confirms the same – they agree it’s best to leave him reclined in his seat. She’s straightening his clothing before covering him with a blanket when she spots his wallet hanging out of his front pocket. As she removes it to safeguard in the galley, a piece of paper slips out. The image on the paper stills her movements; it’s her daughter Sophia – taken earlier that morning. Why does he have it? Who took the picture? And then later, nerves already stretched taught, she’s separating trash in the galley when she spots an envelope with her name on it. Pocketing the envelope, she moves to a quiet spot to read the enclosed note.
The following instructions will save your daughter’s life.
An hour from now, you will ask one of the pilots to leave the flight deck. You may use whatever reason you wish, but you will not raise the alarm in any way. The bathroom adjacent to the flight deck will already be occupied. When the flight deck contains one pilot only, you will request access and allow the occupant of the bathroom to enter the flight deck. Then, you will close the door.
That is all I will ask you to do, Mina, and, if you do it, your daughter will live.
Don’t, and she will die.
Uh oh. But if you think Mina is having a bad day, just wait until you spend some time with her husband, Adam. Because Adam is also having a Very Bad Day, and it isn’t long before the author slowly and inexorably reveals the surprising, disparate threads that link Mina’s nightmarish reality to his.
Mackintosh deliberately – cleverly – plays with our feelings and sympathies for the principal characters. Is Mina selfish for taking the flight and leaving her family behind? Would she be in this mess if she hadn’t swapped shifts? But the choice Mina faces – to save her child or a planeload of passengers – is gut-wrenching. How can anyone deserve to be faced with a decision like that? Who are we to judge her? I was equally conflicted by my feelings for Adam. While his poor choices lead to the mess Mina finds herself in, once we get to know him better, it’s plain he was desperate. Mackintosh brilliantly muddies the waters here. Is Adam a good guy who made bad choices, or is he just a bad guy? Reader, I’m still not sure. Sophia is a similarly challenging character; while she plays a mostly secondary role – except for a very interesting last chapter sequence/twist – she’s the catalyst for Mina’s shift swap and estrangement from Adam, and for Adam’s increasing distance and secrecy from his wife.
One of the best (and worst) aspects of this novel are the PoV switches. The author jumps between Mina and Adam (and Sophia at the end), and individuals on the plane and we slowly wait to learn how each is connected to our story. I loved the passenger PoVs – I just wish there had been more of them before and after events began to unfold. And herein lies my biggest problem with this novel. While the personal dynamics are fascinating, the actual impetus behind the hostage situation? Less so. The issue is big, real, and scary. Do I think it would drive someone to murder a planeload of strangers? Or engage in a long, drawn out Machiavellian plan that targets and victimizes strangers simply looking for friendship and support? Um. No, I don’t.
Hostage wants to be thrilling and gritty. And in parts, it is. Unfortunately, while the scenes on the plane are tense and intense, all the other stuff going on – outside the plane – detract from it. There are too many villains in the story, and the one we most want to know and understand never quite comes into focus; the motivations for their villainy in the end just aren’t all that compelling. Or believable. Sorry, it wasn’t. Friends, I like divergent plot lines that coalesce in clever ways and I like to root for an underdog, but this time out, I think the author had a few too many balls in the air and she doesn’t quite catch them all. Frankly, the very best part of this story is the somewhat ambiguous ending (which I would love to discuss via our message boards!).
Not so thrilling (and honestly, sometimes exhausting) Hostage is a rare Mackintosh misfire. I wasn’t invested in the overarching plot, and I struggled to like and/or understand the principals. Mackintosh fans will enjoy her deep dive into divisive characters, but will miss the chills and twists we’ve come to know and love from this author. Recommended with reservations.
You can read our other review of this title HERE.