10 Flight-Themed Crime Novels I Read While Writing Hostage

Read on for Clare Mackintosh's list of books she read while writing Hostage, the explosively addictive thriller about one flight attendant and the agonizing decision that will change her life―and the lives of everyone on-board―forever.

“Reading,” said the writer and aphorist Mason Cooley, “gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” The world might be starting to open up after the pandemic, but with lots of us staying home this summer what better way to get those travel vibes than a good book? Before I wrote Hostage, my airplane-based locked-room thriller, I read dozens of books by authors who have found inspiration in the skies. Ladies and gentlemen, please stow your portable electronic devices in the overhead locker, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for ten of the best flight-themed books.


Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

The doyenne of the locked-room mystery, Agatha Christie took her first flight in 1911 and wrote this Hercule Poirot favorite in 1935. One of the twelve passengers on board a London plane bound for Paris is a murderer. But which one?


Airport by Arthur Hailey

The antagonist in this classic thriller is a snowstorm, but the real appeal for today’s readers comes from the insight into 1960s airport procedure—so different to today’s super-tight security measures it almost reads like science fiction.


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Struggling artist Scott Burroughs is offered a place on a private jet from NYC to Martha’s Vineyard. When the plane crashes, only Burroughs and a young boy survive. A gripping and suspenseful read, which raises thought-provoking questions about fate, power, and relationships.


The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Not every airplane thriller sees the plane crashing, and this homage to Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train is deftly handled. Ted Severson meets Lily Kintner on a cocktail-fueled night flight from London to Boston, resulting in a fast-paced cat-and-mouse that sent my blood pressure sky-high.


The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Everyone raved about the hit Netflix show which saw Kaley Cuoco running from the FBI, but have you read the book? Cassie Bowden is a The Girl on the Train—style alcoholic, with a history of blackouts, one-night-stands, and bad choices. I love an intricate, slow-burn suspense novel, and this hits all my call buttons.


Pandora’s Clock by John J. Nance

What if the danger wasn’t from a passenger, but in a passenger? Nance’s breathless 90s bio-thriller sees pilot James Holland denied permission to land, after it’s revealed a passenger onboard his plane has been infected with a deadly pathogen.


Layover by David Bell

Lonely travelers, delayed flights, and anonymous bars make airports ripe for romance. In this psychological thriller, frequent traveler Joshua Fields has a brief encounter during a layover (insert your own jokes here), only to discover his paramour is a registered missing person.


The Last Flight by Julie Clark

After Claire meets Eva in an airport bar, the two women make the reckless decision to trade places. When Eva’s plane goes down, Claire assumes Eva’s identity, finally free of her abusive husband. There’s just one problem: Eva was running from something too…


Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding

I’m sneaking this one in on the basis that Frank Abagnale—the audacious conman brought to life on screen by Leonardo di Caprio—spent an extraordinary amount of time posing as a pilot. Okay, so it’s a memoir, not a novel, but it reads like a thriller.


The Three by Sarah Lotz

Last to board is this dark and original thriller about four simultaneous plane crashes, from which only three children survive. In a reversal of the title above, The Three presents as non-fiction, unpicking the story through diaries and internet messages. Haunting.

* * * 

The odds of being in a plane crash are one in eleven million but, judging from my research, the likelihood of bumping into a flight-themed crime novel is significantly higher. As a frequent flier myself, I’ve written many thousand words in airport lounges or on planes, constantly weaving stories around my fellow passengers. Setting a thriller in the air was a natural progression. I’m a suspense writer, putting ordinary people into extraordinary situations, and it doesn’t get much more extraordinary than extortion at 35,000 feet.

Enjoy the flight.


*Author Photo Credit Astrid di Crollalanza.

About Hostage by Clare Mackintosh:

You can save hundreds of lives. Or the one that matters most…

From New York Times bestselling author Clare Mackintosh comes to a claustrophobic thriller set over 20 hours on-board the inaugural nonstop flight from London to Sydney.

Mina is trying to focus on her job as a flight attendant, not the problems with her five-year-old daughter back home, or the fissures in her marriage. But the plane has barely taken off when Mina receives a chilling note from an anonymous passenger, someone intent on ensuring the plane never reaches its destination: “The following instructions will save your daughter’s life…”

Someone needs Mina’s assistance and knows exactly how to make her comply.

When one passenger is killed and then another, Mina knows she must act. But which lives does she save: Her passengers…or her own daughter and husband who are in grave distress back at home?

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    Useful Blog post!! Thanks for listing out these Novels; The Last Flight by Julie Clark is a good one. I like reading Novels; They help me increase comprehension and vocabulary, reduce stress, and improve brain connectivity.

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