“. . .very few people actually stop to consider how difficult it is to truly vanish. The level of detail needed to eliminate even the tiniest trace. Because there’s always something. A small thread, a seed of truth, a mistake. It only takes a tiny pinprick of circumstance to unravel it all.” (Prologue, The Last Flight)
It all begins in the present. In the JFK Airport Departure Area, two pensive women are waiting for flights to a place they do not want to go. Women with secrets that could cost them their lives.
Claire Cook is terrified. She has crossed the Rubicon. Her marriage to Rory Cook, her charming, rich, and handsome husband, the heir to one of America’s political royalty, is a sham. Behind closed doors, she is a victim of physical and mental abuse. It has taken years of sly preparation, but today, she was to have arrived in Detroit for a charity event as Mrs. Rory Cook. After collecting her getaway package, sent in advance to the hotel in Detroit, she would have disappeared under an assumed name leading a new life.
At the last minute, her husband, without telling Claire, flies to the Detroit charity event himself. Claire is instructed by a staff member that she is to replace her husband at an event in Puerto Rico. Frantically she calls the Detroit hotel hoping to intercept her package before he arrives. A clerk tells her she has already handed the package to her husband. He knows. And he will make her pay for endangering his political ambitions with this scandal.
Eva Marie James has been in NYC visiting an old neighbor from California but she now must return to Berkley. Eva, a former chemistry student at UC Berkley, leads a lonely and complex life. What began as a one-time choice to help a student by creating an illegal drug has led to a life in the underbelly of illegal drug distribution. It has been a lucrative life for her, but a deadly and dangerous endeavor, and now she wants out. Unless she can find a way to disappear, her only way out is feet first in a pine box.
In the throng of passengers heading to their departure gates, she overhears Claire Cook’s frantic call to a friend for help now that her husband knows she is leaving him. Eva sees a way out that could benefit Claire and herself. Carefully. Cautiously. Eve draws physically then mentally close to Claire. She spins a heart rendering yarn about a husband recently deceased from cancer. She can’t face walking back into her home and all those painful memories. She guides Claire to making a decision that could save both of them. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to disappear? Vanish without a trace?”
Claire takes the bait. They exchange everything; trading lives. Claire boards the plane to California becoming what she believes to be a distraught widow. Eva has what she needs most – a new identity. The seat on Vista Air, Flight 477 to San Juan. Puerto Rico, just a stepping stone to a new life. Money not an issue. She established an untraceable offshore account years ago.
Six hours later, Claire’s flight arrives in California. She senses something big has happened. A nearby TV monitor shows the wreckage of an airplane. The headline reads – Vista Air, Flight 477 has crashed into the ocean shortly after take-off. She is seized with the thought, “I should have been on that flight but sent a young woman to her death in my place!” By exchanging identities with Eva, Claire has gone from becoming a missing wife to a world famous victim of a tragedy. Her face and her life story will be seen on televisions around the world.
Things from this point get very interesting. Claire digs into Eva’s purse for her house keys and it doesn’t take long after opening that front door to learn that she has been bamboozled. There was no sick husband. What was Eva running from? Has she, now masquerading as Eva, stepped into a bigger minefield?
The suspense heightens as the story follows Claire in the present and her new life as Eva. Eva’s story begins in the past leading up to the identity exchange in the JFK airport. The novel masterfully keeps the unknown just out of reach. Tickle and tease the reader; think you have figured things out. Wrong. Somehow the two storylines complement each other; the pages turn faster and faster.
I am going admit that I read the book some time ago. When I started to reread the book to refresh my memory, I devoured it from start to finish again. There have been psychological thrillers that have scared me to death. This is not one. This thriller will have you gaining respect for each protagonist. How many of us have been trapped by circumstance? What would you do? Looking for a beach read this summer? Pick up a copy! The ending is very satisfying! No spoilers!