Far in the Mojave Desert, Jim Harrison’s life is spent in the skies, where defying death is an everyday occurrence. He’s piloting the next generation in flight, hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft. At home, his wife longs to start a family but tragedy is never far away.

The Last Pilot is an intimate tale of the space race told from the perspective of one man. A man whose wife fears for his life every day, never knowing if this will be the day he fails to return from work. There is one particularly effective scene where Grace misremembers the time Harrison says he will return. The worry is palpable.

Harrison’s progression mirrors that of Neil Armstrong’s. He starts out as a US Air Force test pilot for rocket powered planes, attempting to break the sound barrier, and is a favourite to fly the X-15 when the temptation of space beckons. Whilst Harrison is an entirely fictional character, many of those around him are real people, either involved in aviation or the space programme. It’s definitely one of those books where it’s worth checking out the bibliography.

Three words were trying to get her attention, like a small child. Something has happened.

Dialogue makes up a large proportion of this novel, the brevity of character’s sentences reflecting real speech. Lack of speech marks, and often indicators to who is speaking, will not be to everyone’s tastes though, and there were a few times where I had to trace back because I lost track of who was speaking.

We lost sixty-two men over a thirty week stretch once. That’s nearly two a week. I had to buy another black dress; I couldn’t get the one I had clean and dried in time. So I had two, on rotation.

When Josh asked me about the book I was reading he joked “it’s not going to go all Aviator is it?” and I was all, no, it’s about the space race. Well, maybe I should trust his intuition more, as Harrison starts to show signs of OCD. Incidentally, Howard Hughes is mentioned briefly, as Pancho starred in one of his films. Whilst the onset of OCD was realistic, its course was a little rushed and it all seemed to be brushed off lightly by the end.

Against the backdrop of great, technological achievement, it’s a sad story of loss and guilt, and the destructive powers of those feelings.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive | Wordery

Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights

Book Source: Purchased