Hostage (2021) by Clare Mackintosh

Mina’s life, after splitting up with her husband Adam, consists of two things – caring for her daughter Sophia and her job as an airline flight attendant. Those two things collide when Mina is working on a ground-breaking flight from London to Australia. First of all, it’s odd things, like finding Sophia’s epipen in her own bag, when it should be in Sophia’s schoolbag. Then, when a passenger has a fatal heart attack, Mina finds a photograph of Sophia in his pocket, a photo taken that very morning. And then she finds the note – the one that tells her that she has two choices. Either she lets someone into the cockpit, or her daughter will die…

Trapped in an impossible situation, Mina has to choose between one life or hundreds. And on the ground, Adam and Sophia are under threat in the family home. And when it becomes clear that it is not just the passengers on the airplane who are in danger, but thousands more, Mina has to make a terrifying decision…

This is Clare’s fifth novel (I think) and fourth thriller. I read her third book, Let Me Lie, when it came out and absolutely loved it, a brilliant modern thriller. For no particular reason, I didn’t go back and read her first books, I Let You Go and I See You, but when the NetGalley fairy dangled this under my nose, I wasn’t going to say no.

And I almost completely loved this.

It’s a tense, cinematic thrill-ride of a book, cleverly switching narratives from Mina to Adam, trapped in the basement with their daughter, as we gradually learn the reason behind their split, and also hearing from some of the passengers on the flight, only identified by their seat numbers, some of whom may be part of the grand plan, some of which are just innocent victims.

There are loads of little reveals along the way, situations described, such as Mina’s aborted first flying lesson that become something more later in the day. Admittedly the revelation of said lesson does make one development fairly inevitable, but anyone reading the book would be expecting that regardless.

So, this is a non-stop, page-turning thrill-ride. So why did I say almost?

It’s the epilogue. After growing fond of the central characters, I was expecting one last turn of the screw, but the section at the end after the time jump just didn’t work for me at all. It felt like something out of a different book, almost out of a horror novel. Plenty of reviewers on NetGalley praised it for its shock value, and it’s certainly shocking, but it just felt over-the-top to me and left something of a nasty taste in my mouth. That does show Clare’s skill at making me care for the characters over the course of the book, which is to be admired, but even so…

So, roughly 98% of a brilliant thriller. And I think I’m in a minority about the epilogue, so maybe for you it’ll be 100%,

Hostage is out on 22nd June – tomorrow! – in hardback and ebook from Sphere. Many thanks for the review copy.

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