Ever since I saw the movie The Great Waldo Pepper, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of barnstorming and the transient, circus-like life those people led, and so I was very interested in reading Susan Crandall’s The Flying Circus.
WWI pilot Charles “Gil” Gilchrist is flying around the country, barnstorming (selling airplane rides and performing stunts). The war affected him and he’s carrying some emotional baggage. Gil meets Henry Jefferson who has a knack for fixing an airplane’s engines and also manages a good spoken patter to get people interested in paying for a ride. Henry talks his way into travelling with Gil and seems to be carrying his own secret, on the run from something. Together, they meet up with Cora Rose Haviland, a young woman who seems to know no fear and is willing to perform daring stunts on Gil’s plane. The three travel across the country, performing and offering rides and even competing with other barnstormers. But each holds a secret that could break apart the trio.
This is a fairly quick read. I was hoping it would have a bit more about the period it is set in (the 1920’s) and reveal more about the flying, but it really is a story about the three individuals and their unlikely bond and how they support one another through thick and thin. You’ve heard the term “cozy mystery” … well, this would be a “cozy history.”
I very much liked the characters and the interactions between them. It all felt very real and natural. And the progression of their travels and the build-up of flying and competition was very nice. But what I found frustrating was that the story kept playing with something bigger than the individuals. The baggage that each carries should be bigger than the individuals, and it’s often hinted at and we’re teased with it, but it keeps taking a back seat to the main story until we get almost to the end and then it doesn’t feel like an integral part of the story but instead tacked on because we were teased with it.
In many ways, it seemed that the first three-quarters of the book was character study and set up for a plot that doesn’t really start until the book is ready to finish.
This wasn’t a bad read, but it didn’t make me eager to read any more by Ms. Crandall.
Looking for a good book? The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall has some very nice characters in a setting that has a lot of potential, but the meat of the story doesn’t happen until near the very end.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Flying Circus
author: Susan Crandall
publisher: Gallery Books
hardcover, 368 pages