‘Hostage’ by Clare Mackintosh is a seat-of-your-pants thriller about betrayal, love, and family

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

With “Hostage,” Clare Mackintosh gives us a thriller with nonstop action and not one set of hostages, but two. The family at the center of these hostage situations is the Holbrook family: Adam, MIna and Sophia. Adam is a police inspector and Mina is a flight attendant. Sophia is their adopted daughter, and we learn a lot about the harmful effects of neglect in the first year of a child’s life. Sophia has an attachment disorder which makes her difficult at times, and she is also extremely bright. Mackintosh does a fabulous job introducing the three main characters, and we learn about them from the first person narratives Adam and Mina provide, each chapter detailing the time and the narrator.

Along with their narratives are narratives from some of the passengers on the plane that is hijacked, and they are identified by their seat numbers. Mina made sure that she worked the inaugural new nonstop flight from London to Sydney, Australia, because she didn’t want to spend the week before the Christmas holiday with Adam. They had separated, but while she was out of town working, Adam would stay at what had been their home with Sophia and care for her. Their au pair had quit a few months before for unexplained reasons, and Adam relied on Becca, a high school babysitter whom the au pair had met, for child care help.

As in all good mysteries, we are aware of the fact that there is much we don’t know. We don’t know why Adam was called into his superior’s office regarding his work phone usage. From his response, we know that something is wrong, but we don’t know what. We know that Katya, the au pair, quit, and we know that Mina thinks it’s because Adam did something inappropriate, but we don’t know whether it’s true. We know that Mina had studied to be a pilot—her life’s dream—until she quit, for some unidentified reason. What we do know is that the plane is going to be hijacked, and Mina is going to have to make a very difficult decision. Mackintosh provides us with a scene at the very start of the book: the transcript of a call to an emergency number about a plane crashing—is that the plane that is hijacked? The one Mina is on?

We know what’s coming from reading the jacket cover. On the flight, Mina receives a note that says, “The following instructions will save your daughter’s life.” Does she follow the instructions and allow, actually abet, the hijackers in their takeover of the plane, or does she alert the authorities? Her daughter’s life versus the many hundreds of lives of the passengers and crew on the plane. What would you do?

While we know about the hostage situation at the start, especially since it’s the title of the book, we don’t know about the betrayals. While there are two hostage situations, one on the plane and one at Mina’s home involving her daughter, we don’t really think about betrayal until we’ve finished the book and are reflecting on the characters and their actions. The betrayals are many, starting with the first betrayals perpetrated by both Mina and Adam. Adam’s betrayal is not telling Mina what is going on in his life that threatens their family. Mina’s betrayal is managing to work that inaugural flight, even though she hadn’t been assigned it, because she wants time away from her family. But those are just the start as betrayal after betrayal happens literally through the very last page and the very last sentence. Mina wasn’t just betrayed by Adam and by the hijackers; we learn the reason for her abandoning flight school—another betrayal. And in her response to that betrayal, she betrayed another. Even those involved in the hijacking end up betrayed. But it’s the final betrayal that is perhaps the most surprising. The twists and the surprises and the delicious turns that the story takes delight us and also chill us.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves mysteries, action stories, or just stories about imperfect humans. It’s wonderfully plotted and definitely a keeper. I’ll be rereading it in the future.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, for review purposes.