Her Last Flight

Written by Beatriz Williams
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In 1947, Eugenia “Janey” Everett begins research on a book about famous pilot Sam Mallory, who died in a plane crash during the Spanish Civil War. To get at the heart of Sam, Janey looks for, and finds, the even-more-famous aviatrix Irene Foster, who disappeared on the last leg of a solo, around-the-world race in 1937. Sam taught Irene to fly, helped her become famous, and was her alleged lover.

This novel tells Janey’s story: she was a photojournalist in Europe during World War II, finds Sam Mallory’s crashed plane and diary, and is now on a small Hawaiian island interviewing Irene Foster and getting entangled with the aviatrix’s family and friends. Alternating chapters are excerpts from Janey’s novel, The Aviatrix, about Irene Foster, beginning in 1928 when the aviatrix is a ten-year-old girl with no mother, a drunk for a father, and a passion for surfing. Both stories fly toward the answers we want to learn: how did Irene end up hiding on this island? Why did Sam crash in a Spanish desert? And what was Sam and Irene’s true relationship?

The suspense and pacing of the novel are excellent. The pasts of the three main characters are complicated and tragic and suspenseful. Each character is richly developed; they are hard people, but they’ve endured so much, and you desperately want everything to work out for them—but how can it? We already know the ending.

The author used Amelia Earhart and other historical people as models for this story (as explained in her author’s note), but she alters Earhart’s life and disappearance and develops new characters, puzzles, and a fabulous story. The historical details of early flight, women pilots, airplanes in war, and the beginnings of worldwide celebrity are fascinating. Highly recommended.