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Published by Century, 14 July 2016. ISBN:
day America. Smartphones, McDonald's, Starbucks, social media. But in this
America the Civil War never happened and slavery is a well-oiled industry in
four of the states - the so-called ‘Hard Four’.
Victor has escaped his life as a
slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Having struck a bargain with the
government, he lives his life as a bounty hunter, tracking down slaves who have
escaped from the Hard Four. A mystery to himself, Victor has suppressed his
childhood memories and has convinced himself he is a good man doing what he
needs to do to survive. He wants to keep his freedom, even if it comes at high
But in hunting his latest target, an
escaped slave called Jackdaw, he senses something isn't quite right. As he
pursues Jackdaw, he uncovers secrets relating to the Hard Four and their
relationships with big business and the government. And he finds out that the
fugitive carries something extraordinary. Something that could change America
I found Underground Airlines (the title comes from the abolitionist group
in the book who help escaped slaves) mesmerising, challenging, uncomfortable.
Victor is a fascinating and complex
protagonist - not a slave, but still chained to the machine that makes slavery
possible. He has been trying to forget where he came from, but gradually cracks
appear in his armour and his memories threaten to overwhelm him.
Winters builds his alternative reality
beautifully. His narrative is sprinkled with references to imagined historical
events (for example, Jesse Owens won medals in the 1936 Olympics, but then
defected to Russia ‘denouncing degenerate slave-state capitalism’), but he does
it so deftly that you are drawn into his world without question. The line
between Victor's world and ours is skillfully blurred.
On the surface, Underground Airlines is a well-crafted thriller, suspenseful and
with fascinating characters. But not far below the surface is a philosophical
debate about how one small change of events in history can put the world on a
different path, a debate about racism and what it means, and about what it is
to be human. He forces us to think and reevaluate what we think we know.
I loved it and am so glad to have read
Ben H Winters was born in Maryland.
He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author
of nine novels. Most recently World of
Trouble, the concluding book in the Last
Policeman trilogy. His latest book is Underground
Airlines.He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three
Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired
blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had
adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had
cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When
she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show
presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also
some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic
style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got
creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed
WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across
using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on
her experiences in journalism. The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was
published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads, is out on April
28th. In her spare time Mary-Jane likes to walk the dog and eat a lot. Good job
she likes walking.