I won The Lost Pilots by Corey Mead from Goodreads giveaways. It was published last month, so I'm about a month late with my review. I admit that I've been a good deal later than that, but I do wish I could manage to be more timely. I read giveaway books in the order that I receive them rather than the order that I won them. So the next book on the giveaway pile was actually a 2017 win that arrived very late due to a mix up. I hope to review it some time in July.
I wanted to read The Lost Pilots because the history of women's aviation is one of my abiding interests. See the very first review that appeared on this blog of a book dealing with the female Russian WWII ace, Lilia Litvyak here. So I hoped to find out about the female Australian aviator, Jessie Miller, by reading The Lost Pilots.
The aviation history aspect of this book was fascinating. I enjoyed reading about Jessie Miller's aviation accomplishments. I even liked reading about the discrimination against women that held her back because it gave me a clearer picture of the experience of woman pilots during this period. I felt that the speed limitations on women in the Women's Air Derby were the aviation equivalent of footbinding because they hobbled women probably due to a mistaken belief that women were incapable of flying safely at greater speed. I considered this ironic because it seemed to me that it was William Lancaster who was incapable of flying safely. He had a pattern of poor decisions that resulted in accidents which ruined his flying career. He was continually being given opportunities and wrecking planes. This caused potential employers to lose confidence in him. Honestly, I don't know why anyone was impressed with Lancaster.
As much as I admired Jessie, she sure did have bad judgement about men. Over the course of the narrative, I kept on changing my mind about which of the men involved in the true crime sequence was worse.
In the title of this review I state that The Lost Pilots was "marred" by true crime since this is a genre that makes me uncomfortable. Because I tend to avoid true crime, I've never really thought about why I have problems with it. In my entire past history on Goodreads, I've only shelved one of my reads as true crime. It was Murder in the High Himalaya which I didn't review on a blog, but only on Goodreads. I remember feeling that it was sordid with no redeeming value. I love fictional crime novels for their clever plots, important themes, memorable protagonists and witty dialogue. All of these are products of a novel's artistry. True crime lacks these characteristics. So all that's left is the facts of what occurred which can feel rather sordid.
I have friends who love true crime. So they are likely to feel that The Lost Pilots was enlivened by true crime, rather than marred by it. I will say that the true crime aspect of this book did affect me powerfully. I was very conscious of the fact that these were real people and I cared very much about Jessie Miller. When I became fully aware of the personal consequences of these events for Jessie, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn't continue reading until the following day. It seemed to me that she was more of a victim than the dead man, Haden Clarke, because she had to live with the repercussions for the rest of her life.
Since I can't imagine writing about the lives of Jesse Miller and William Lancaster without introducing Haden Clarke into the mix, I suppose it was inevitable that this book was destined to include the true crime element, and that I would enjoy reading it less. Yet Corey Mead's writing, organization and research are first rate. So I would recommend The Lost Pilots from a historical perspective.