Chris Bohjalian’s Blank Murder
The life of a flight attendant is one full of opportunity for adventure, excitement and discovery… and at the same time, it’s the perfect gateway towards picking up some new bad habits. For many of them, life rolls along at a furious pace as they trot around the globe forty thousand feet above the ground, nothing standing between them and the freedom coveted by so many.
In Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant , we are given a very close perspective on this world, or more precisely, the untold dangers it carries with it. Far from everyone will run into the conundrum Cassandra Brown has, and that’s precisely what makes her story worth telling.
As the book opens we are introduced to our heroine, a carefree attendant rightfully using her job as an opportunity to seek out the great adventures this world has to offer. A bit of an alcoholic, she is more than used to one-night stands ultimately turning into blackouts, shoved in the pit of forgetfulness. This was meant to be another one of those nights, and everything seemed to have gone according to plan when she woke up in a Dubai hotel. Unfortunately for her, the man next to her is laying dead in a pool of blood. She has no recollection of him, or of the entire night for that matter.
Being a single woman in a foreign country, Cassandra opts to lie and flee back into the skies, but the stage for her fall has already been set. As one lie piles on top of the previous one and with the FBI becoming involved, it’s increasingly clear that she must confront her demons and dig out the truth of what happened on that night, whatever the cost may be. One thing she is certain of, it’s that she’s not blame for what happened… but in that case, who is? And how would she even go about finding them? An impossible task that promises to bring about with it an impossible solution.
Heavy Layers of Deceit
Like any good thriller or mystery book, this novel sinks its teeth into you from the very start with Bohjalian working very hard to maintain a tense and enigmatic atmosphere. We are presented with so many questions at the start that we always have something to mull over at the back of our minds, and as the story progresses we see that one answer more often than not leads to an even more disturbing question.
The author does a commendable job of involving the reader in this whole investigation, of making us actively think about it and try to anticipate what’s coming rather than taking it all in passively. While personally I found that the resolution of the mystery didn’t quite live up to the build-up, it certainly wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination… it was more a case of the author inadvertently setting the bar a little too high with everything that came before.
Our main character is definitely a bit of a number and doesn’t fit the archetype of noble and always well-meaning protagonist. Instead, Bohjalian opted for a more realistic portrayal of a flawed woman with very real problems, bad habits and a personality which doesn’t make her the easiest character to root for.
As a matter of fact, even when I was presented with her rationalizations of her actions and inner thought process I still teetered on the fence between liking and disliking her. However, I will say that her flaws, especially her propensity to lie, do add some additional sources of interesting conflict as we go along and unfold the main story.
Morality and Life in the Skies
The brunt of the focus in Flight Attendant is indeed placed on the mystery plot, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in more profound areas. Bohjalian is clearly trying to send a message (perhaps stemming from personal experience) about the far-reaching consequences of alcoholism and a life free of care, especially for oneself. Unfortunately it does become a bit tiring to see a drunk Cassandra sleep with virtually every man she meets, not to mention that it’s likely her behaviour won’t be relatable to a fair amount of people.
I especially feel that way because her character clearly had some unexplored depths that could have been touched upon instead and made us more sympathetic towards her instead of someone I feel most of us are bound to have a love/hate relationship with. Nevertheless, she remains an interesting subject for character study if that’s your cup of tea. The author also takes some time to teach us about the world, some of the exotic qualities it holds, and in much greater detail, life in the airline industry.
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We get a pretty engaging tour of how the different departments operate, the difficulties various employees have to deal with, the shortcuts they take, the commendable and despicable decisions they make, the prevailing hierarchy, and a whole lot more. If this wasn’t a novel about alcoholism, espionage and murder, you would almost think it to be an expose of what goes on behind the scenes of the flight world.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, The Flight Attendant is a solid murder mystery with an interesting protagonist, varied settings, a curved and twisted plot, not to mention various tidbits of curious extracurricular information. If you’re a fan of stories about murder and espionage I believe you will enjoy this one.
Chris Bohjalian is an American novelist born in New York, and whose novels generally focus on a specific issue in our world, such as animal rights and homelessness, driven by flawed and complex characters.
He wrote more than fifteen novels at this point, including Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls, which are both bestsellers.