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The opulent interior of the first airliner, the Pan American Clipper, on a transatlantic flight from Southampton, England, to New York in war-darkened 1939, is the setting for Follett's high-flying caper, guaranteed to hold the reader in his seat. Recalling a time when air travel was an exotic adventure, master of epic suspense Follett ( Pillars of the Earth ) spins an excruciatingly taut drama on the aerial equivalent of the Orient Express. Persons unknown kidnap the wife of Clipper engineer Eddie Deakin from their home in Maine in order to force Deakin to maneuver an emergency landing in the choppy waters off Bangor. Apparently the shadowy conspirators plan to remove one of the passengers, an intriguing group who include an FBI agent transporting an extradited mafioso; a Russian princess; a British industrialist chasing his wife and her lover; an American movie star; an Oswald Mosely-like aristocrat turned fascist, his daughter and her lover, a young jewel thief. Details of early aviation firmly establish the cast in their era and a tantalizing mosaic of subplots whisks the reader through a whirlwind of romance and intrigue. Follet soars to a thoroughly satisfying ending with aeronautical precision. This is his best since The Eye of the Needle. Author tour. (Sept.)