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Bookworm: ‘The Last Flight’ – let the turbulence commence

‘Death by Shakespeare’ will satisfy the curious, the lover of the macabre, Shakespearean followers and historians

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Last Flight: A Novel”

  • By Julie Clark
  • c. 2020, Sourcebooks
  • $26.99, higher in Canada; 320 pages

The best seat in the house. Just one day there is all you'd need to see how the other half lives. Just a sample of pamper. One days' worth of rich food. One afternoon session of massage-mani-pedi. Admit it: you've imagined yourself living that life, haven't you? And if you take "The Last Flight" by Julie Clark, it could happen.

Claire Cook couldn't simply leave.

"The Last Flight: A Novel" author Julie Clark.

She knew that the only way to escape her husband was by well-considered, careful planning, and time; calling the police was out of the question, and merely telling Daniel that she was going would invite more punches. Who would believe accusations from the wife of such a powerful, likable, charismatic man?

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No, she'd wait... until she discovered that he'd added a charity event to her schedule and she knew it was time: she'd head to Detroit, skip the meeting, quietly flee to Canada with new ID, and he'd never find her. She could almost feel the freedom but then, at the airport, she learned that Daniel had changed her calendar again at the last-minute and everything was ruined. It was only a matter of time until he found her cash-stash, her ID, her plans.

Then he'd find Claire. She was afraid he'd kill her.

Over a glass of wine at the airport lounge, she mulled over her options, which were few until she met Eva, who told Claire a sad story about her husband's death. Eva was trying to escape memories. Claire was trying to escape. They were roughly the same size, about the same age. Why not swap tickets, and swap new destinies?

"The Last Flight: A Novel" by Julie Clark.

It sounded like the best idea: after exchanging clothing, Claire headed to Oakland, and Eva's quiet home. Eva headed to Puerto Rico, where Claire had been dispatched. Problems solved, if not for the storm that took the Puerto Rico-bound plane down over the ocean.

But did Eva actually get on the plane? Claire had reason to suspect not, just as she began to suspect that Eva's widow story was a lie. Claire had no money, no ID, no plans.

And when Daniel learned that she was still alive, she had no more options...

It is highly recommended that you get intimately acquainted with the edge of your chair before you start this book. You'll be perched there for most of it.

Imagine yourself running to catch a connection that's leaving now, and that's what you get with "The Last Flight." Your heart gasps, you gulp breaths, your muscles scream from the tension as Claire's world crumbles like a dry airline snack. But that's nothing compared to the other half of the story, which author Julie Clark gives to an anonymous voice that tells Eva's side of the tale in a most chilling tone. In the end, that'll leave you with double the hair-raising, double the OMGs, and double the shivers.

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Tray tables in upright position, start "The Last Flight," and let the turbulence commence. Buckle up tight, read on, and try – just try – to stay in your seat.

"Death by Shakespeare" author Kathryn Harkup.

“Death by Shakespeare”

  • By Kathryn Harkup
  • c. 2020, Bloomsbury Sigma
  • $28, $38 Canada; 368 pages

Here thou art, casting thine eyes for the next book to read. Ye do not want any old tome, 'tis true. Forgettest thou a novel telling a story of a scoundrel or a rake. Taketh not a tale of wenches, nor one that brings a pox upon your house, nor thy mind, nor thy stable. Nay, the tome ye needeth is "Death by Shakespeare" by Kathryn Harkup. Prithee, find it and thou shalt beest joyful.

Four-hundred-plus years ago, when there were no antibiotics and the human body was still mostly mysterious, William Shakespeare was born. It's a wonder he lived; says Harkup, in 1564, more than twenty of every 100 children died in their first year and if that's not scary enough, three months after Shakespeare was born, the plague broke out in Stratford.

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Harkup says that Shakespeare's interest in the theatre likely started when he was a young man acting in local amateur productions, or with traveling shows. Overall appetite for theatre in England then was large, and it was common for patrons to see multiple plays each week. As a playwright, Shakespeare would have known that authenticity was imperative to audiences and tapping into current events was one way to give them that.

"Death by Shakespeare" by Kathryn Harkup.

This included death, which was ever-present in Shakespeare's day, and which he used freely in his work.

Syphilis was a relatively new disease, and it killed Doll in Henry V. For a woman to die giving birth was common, as happened to Thaisa in Pericles.

There were many ways to have been put to death when Shakespeare wrote plays; with that in mind, he could kill a character by beheading (Henry VIII), hanging by the neck (Henry V), gibbeting (Antony and Cleopatra), starvation (Titus Adronicus), or murder in several ways. Characters could die at war. They could die of the plague. They could be poisoned or commit suicide. Just being sent to prison (Measure for Measure) could be a death sentence.

Or, says Harkup, Shakespeare killed his characters with "a sliding scare of silliness"...

For fans of the Bard, "Death by Shakespeare" is a no-brainer. Author Kathryn Harkup writes extensively of the man and his life, but it's framed by events and social attitudes of his times, as well as that of his contemporaries. Not only does this put his work into perspective, but it also somewhat explains why he wrote as he did. Reading this is like taking a fun class with the boring parts omitted and the infamous Shakespearean tinge of mystery preserved.

If the only knowledge you have about Shakespeare is that thing with the skull, however, this could still be your book. Harkup's historical references and descriptions of crime and death are gruesome and interestingly readable but beware: Chapters Four and Seven could seriously mess with your lunch.

So, fan or not, there's something inside "Death by Shakespeare" that will satisfy the curious, the lover of the macabre, Shakespearean followers, or historians. If that's you, then this book is to be or not to be missed.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.