“Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police – she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home – Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?”
My Thoughts: There is no question that Chris Bohjalian is an outstanding author. He has the ability to make you care about a wide swath of characters, some of which are all too easy to dislike. Plus, his meticulous research shines on every page with an attention to detail that makes you feel as if you too are a subject matter expert on the topic. His novels are as diverse as they are numerous, and they all work in their own way with some working more than others. In this regard, The Flight Attendant is yet another achievement in a long list of them. That it is not his best novel is only slightly disappointing because a disappointing novel by Mr. Bohjalian is still a good one.
In The Flight Attendant, your enjoyment of the novel is completely contingent upon your reaction to Cassie. She is pretty awful. Selfish and borderline narcissistic, all she cares about is herself and her next good time. She is a barely functioning alcoholic, prone to blackouts and behavior that should have landed her in jail a long time ago. She repeatedly makes the wrong choice in all things, and it is a miracle that she still is alive let along still working as a flight attendant. At the same time, she has a propensity for self-pity which is nauseating. Her problems are of her own making, and even though she recognizes this fact she still laments them and ultimately drowns her sorrows because of them. The merry-go-round that is her life is simultaneously depressing and sickening, especially because there is nothing to indicate that Cassie is a good person. So, if you find Cassie a tough pill to swallow, your enjoyment of the novel is going to suffer because she and her problems are the heart of the story.
If you can get beyond Cassie’s self-imposed problems, the rest of the story is actually fairly interesting. Given the headlines these days regarding Russia and their active involvement in foreign elections and foreign politics in general, this is one spy story that is frightening in its timeliness. Mr. Bohjalian does an excellent job of creating his chess game of a story, keeping his most valuable pieces hidden until the very last moment. There are times where the story does lag, when the focus is on Cassie’s internal problems rather than on her external ones. However, when the story progresses and the hidden layers of secrets reveal themselves one by one, the story grows on you in a “does this really happen?” way.
Let’s be honest. The Flight Attendant is not Mr. Bohjalian’s best novel. Nor is it even among his best. One must go into the story willing to forgive a lot of weaknesses, including the sometimes glacial pacing of the story and the non-empathetic main character. However, his attention to detail remains among the best among modern writers, and the minutiae he includes about life as a flight attendant or as a secret agent provides enough compelling points to keep your interest. Any story that does that is a success in my book.