UNDERGROUND AIRLINES by Ben H. Winters
The “Underground Airline” is the present day version of the “Underground Railway”. Why would this be necessary? In this alternative representation of present day the Civil War never happened. Most states banned slavery on their own, except for four states calling themselves the “hard four”. With Slavery still in place of course there are runaway slaves which necessitates the existence of bounty hunters to return slaves to their owners. With cell phones, computers, the internet and modern transportation the occupation of capturing runaway slaves bears a much different description than in the past.
Victor is a very clever and extremely resourceful black man working for an anonymous voice at the other end of his cell phone, trying to infiltrate an abolitionist cell. His case is to track and apprehend Jackdaw, a man someone desperately wants to capture. Along the way he happens across a young woman and her son, who may be able to help Victor in his pursuit. But something is wrong … why is Jackdaw so important and what is the government’s stake not only in this pursuit but in maintaining the “hard four”.
As a rule I do not normally read “alternative history” but the description of this book proved too hard for me to resist. Interestingly, where I normally read this type of book and enjoy the story despite the alterations to history, in this book Mr. Winters intrigued me with his imaginative version of America. He gave an interesting “alternative” reality – a United States that left the United Nations because of the constant pressure to outlaw slavery resulting in many countries placing trade embargoes against the U.S. Interesting scenarios about what would happen to the U.S. when it slips from being a world leader.
The thriller/story part of “Underground Airline” is where I felt a little let down. The first part of the book left me confused. It took me a while to sort out who the good guys were. Then my interest picked up when Victor met an unusual young woman and her son in a hotel lobby. The middle pages turned quickly as I became immersed in the story and then … what happened?
I got a feeling that there might be a sequel in the works but the ending cannot even be described as a cliff hanger … it just wrapped up quickly and in a rather disappointing manner. I know others raved about this book and while the writing was good and the premise intriguing I’m not convinced I would visit Mr. Winter’s version of the United States again if a sequel were published.
I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Mulholland Books, via Netgalley in the hopes of an honest review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from www.benhwinters.com)
Ben H. Winters is the author of nine novels, including most recently the New York Times bestselling Underground Airlines (Mulholland Books). His other work includes the award-winning Last Policeman trilogy, which concluded in 2014 with World of Trouble (Quirk), a nominee for an Anthony Award and an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Countdown City was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award, and it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.
Ben’s other books Literally Disturbed (Price Stern Sloan), a book of scary poems for kids; the New York Times bestselling parody novel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk) and a novel for young readers, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (HarperCollins), which was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2011 as well as an Edgar Nominee in the juvenile category.
Ben has also written extensively for the theater, and was a 2009-2010 Fellow of the Dramatists Guild; his plays for young audiences include The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere , A (Tooth) Fairy Tale and Uncle Pirate, and his plays for not-young audiences include the 2008 Off-Broadway musical Slut and the “jukebox musical” Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, which is produced frequently across the country and around the world. Ben’s journalism has appeared in The Chicago Reader, The Nation, In These Times, USA Today, the Huffington Post, and lots of other places.
Ben grew up in suburban Maryland, went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and has subsequently lived in six different cities—seven if you count Brooklyn twice for two different times. Presently he lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Diana, a law professor, and their three children.