Updated: Aug 19
Her Last Flight
By: Beatriz Williams
This spring during quarantine, my daughter and I both read a book on her summer reading list. It was called Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America, by Steven Sheinken and it was about the first all-female air derby that was held in 1929 from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH. Every female pilot at the time was part of this race and the story was fascinating. I have read many books about pilots; The Aviator’s Wife about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberg, by Melanie Benjamin, and I recently read an article about Amelia Earhart and her mysterious disappearance. I have always been fascinated by the stories of these first pilots and the risks they took to become pioneers in the world of aviation.
When Beatriz Williams announced the title and subject of her latest release, I was intrigued, to say the least. Her Last Flight did not disappoint. I think the last few books by Beatriz have improved so much from her earlier books and this one was a quick and exciting read.
This story of historical fiction is loosely based on Amelia Earhart’s life, with some modifications. The story’s main character is Irene Foster, a young woman who closely resembles Amelia Earhart. Irene was seven years old when her father first takes her surfing in the Bay Area of San Francisco. She was a little too young to surf the waves and he was a little bit of drunk, but it becomes one of Irene’s fondest memories of their time together. From that day forward, surfing is something that they share and something they can enjoy doing together even when everything else is falling apart. When she is older, her mother dies and her father can’t manage to hold down a job so they move to Los Angeles where Irene makes ends meet by working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. In the mornings, she often enjoys some surfing and it is on one of these mornings when she is twenty years old, that she meets the famous pilot, Sam Mallory.
Sam and Irene form an unlikely friendship. He is first-rate pilot, charismatic, and handsome, an American heartthrob in 1937. He is also a married man with a young daughter, Pixie. Although he and his wife are estranged with Sam living in LA and Bertha living in Oakland, they keep the arrangement because it works for his image. Meanwhile, Sam and Irene form a very close bond because he teaches her how to pilot a plane. She is a natural and enjoys flying with him. Slowly they form a true friendship and partnership. After some time, Sam decides that he wants to perform the first-ever long-distance air flight to Australia and he wants to make history by flying with a woman. Naturally, he wants that woman to be Irene Foster.
Together they map out charts and flight patterns and they spend an inordinate amount of time together. The problem is they need a sponsor because the plane that Sam wants to fly for this trip costs $35K, and who better to sponsor this trip than George Morrow, a wealthy financier, and a fan of Sam’s. George Morrow is loosely based on George Palmer Putnam, who was a real-life publisher, air flight sponsor, and eventual husband of Amelia Earhart.
Sam and Irene set out for their flight, fooling everyone by saying they are just holding a test flight but actually taking off for real. They have a virtually unscathed trip until they find themselves stranded on Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. It is here after several days together that they finally declare their love for one another. But as in any Beatriz Williams novel, true love is always complicated and star-crossed.
Ironically, Howland Island is where Amelia Earhart was supposed to land on her ill-fated trip around the world trip in 1937. Amelia Earhart and her flying partner Fred Noonan never landed on Howland Island and went missing, never to be found again.
Fast forward ten years after Irene and Sam are stranded and we meet Janey Everett, an Associated Press photojournalist whose mission is to write the story of Sam Mallory. It is said that he died in Spain somewhere back in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Janey has traveled the world following stories but has recently stumbled upon some information about the final days of Sam Mallory and she is determined to not only break the story of his final days and how he died but also write the first biography of his life. In order to track down the story, she must first find Irene Foster, who has not been seen or spoken to since 1937. Janey doesn’t believe that Irene Foster is dead. She is determined to find her because without Irene, there is no story about Sam Mallory. Unlike Amelia Earhart’s story, Irene is very much alive and Janey is able to find her and interview her. It is through Irene’s retelling of her story, that Janey is finally able to find out what really happened to Sam and Irene.
This is a beautiful story of love, forgiveness, and perseverance. And it does beg to question, what really happened to Amelia Earhart? Did she too stage her disappearance in 1937 and really create a new life and identity for herself? Was she captured by the Japanese and held prisoner? Or did she and her flying partner live as castaways for a while and then die of hunger? My guess is that we will never know.
Her Last Flight
By: Beatriz Williams
Publication Date: June 30, 2020