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Book Review: The Lost Pilots

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Lost Pilots by Corey Mead combines an adventure story, a tragic love story, and a crime story into one narrative.  It has it all: a fascinating look back into the early days of aviation, a love triangle, bringing back to prominence Jessie Keith-Miller, a female pioneer pilot, and a murder trial.

The story begins in 1927, when World War I pilot, Captain William Lancaster and Jessie Keith-Miller take off from London, aspiring to complete a record-breaking flight to Australia, the first in a light plane. Although they were basically strangers, they bonded over their desire for adventure, fame, and escape from unhappy marriages. There are many scenes that underscore the dangers of flying during those early days.  Having crashed numerous times it became obvious that weather was a character, an enemy with its slashing rain and battering crosswinds, sleet, and fog that could easily bring down these light planes.

After successfully completing the flight, they found they were international celebrities, but also deeply in love.  The spotlight takes them from Australia to New York to Hollywood. Their celebrity status is exploited, yet as lovers they must fall under the radar since both are still married.  Making matters worse the crash of 1929 causes them financial problems. 

Their lives were influenced by the era, having lived through World War I, the Roaring 20s, and the Great Depression. Mead believes the effect of “WWI taught that generation how to cheat death.  They became free-spirits, wanting to escape the Victorian upbringing.  I also wanted to show how there was huge bias against female flyers.  Jessie was probably a better pilot than Lancaster. But living in the Roaring Twenties also helped her because it was a time where women became more independent and started to enter the male-dominated world.”

Since the depression dried up any commercial flying possibilities, Jessie participates in the Women’s Air Derby, rooming with Amelia Earhart, while Lancaster seeks other flying adventures. Still in need of money Jessie decides to write her autobiography with Haden Clark as her ghostwriter.  Having been granted a divorce she accepts Clark’s marriage proposal.  After returning to Miami where Jessie and Clark lived, Lancaster became devastated when told of the couple’s plans. That night Clark is found dead of a gunshot wound. Was it murder or suicide?  A riveting and scandalous trial ensues that ultimately costs Jessie her fame as she stands by Lancaster. 

Mead noted, “The entire court room case was presented verbatim in the Miami newspapers.  It covered not only the trial but also Jessie’s and Lancaster’s background. I was able to draw a pretty complete picture of their lives from the newspapers at the time, their diaries/writings, and talking with his great nephew. What I discovered was that it was similar to today’s sensational court cases where tragedy and misfortune are exploited for entertainment as the public’s hunger is fed.”

This book combines the daring days of the early aviators with a passionate love story.  A true story of adventure, forbidden love, fame, fortune, tragedy, scandal, and loyalty.

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