Title: Night over Water
Author: Ken Follett
Follett, Ken (1991). Night over Water. New York: Signet Books
Date Updated: June 14, 2015
I had a great admiration for my cousin, Jay Wilson. Jay was a writer for the Lone Ranger on WXYZ in Detroit, before it went national. He was a young officer in the Army during WWII. He and his wife, Francis, were very good to me. They encouraged me to reach out for things more exotic than I would ever encounter in the small town I lived in then. The movie, With a Song in My Heart (1952) about the life of Jane Froman was one of the things they encouraged me to see. One scene in the movie stuck with me – the crash of the USO flight in Lisbon, Portugal harbor, February 22, 1943. The plane was a Boeing 214, The Yankee Clipper, a so-called “flying boat.” It was the only crash in the history of this aircraft.
This book by Follett was the next book he wrote after The Pillars of the Earth (1989) out of his system, Ken Follett returns to the spies, sex, and Nazis that did so well for him in Eye of the Needle. Fascinated by the huge flying boats launched by Pan Am in the late 1930s (the Boeing 314) to fly the north Atlantic route, Follett has cooked up a sort of Airship of Fools or Flying Grand Hotel about a Clipper load of rich folks and lowlifes fleeing England after the declaration of war.
The passengers include a fascist marquess and his family – so much like the Mitfords (an aristocratic British family with Nazi connections) as to include a Nazi daughter and her socialist sister. There is a cuckolded industrialist chasing his pretty wife; an aging movie star; a Jewish refugee physicist; a suspected Mafioso; a rich, powerful, but unloved American widow; the widow’s weak, treacherous brother; and the handsome young jewel-thief without whom no such epic is complete.
The danger that hangs over all these worthies is sabotage of the flight plan by an otherwise trustworthy flight engineer whose wife is being held captive in Maine by nameless rotten scoundrels. The merciless kidnappers want the plane set down early in order to remove a nameless someone before it reaches New York. Since the plane flies rather slowly and since there are three refueling stops, and since the beds make up into comfortable little berths, there is plenty of time for the passengers to search for the marchioness’s priceless rubies, counterplot against the bad guys, stretch the legs in Irish pubs, quarrel, have reconciliations and indulge in a fair amount of good, healthy sex. No technothrills. No psychodrama. Just several pages of good storytelling.