Book Review – Star Flight

  • Title: Star Flight
  • Author: Phyllis A. Whitney
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/08/2019

In junior high I discovered Phyllis A. Whitney’s romantic suspense novels in a library somewhere – it may have even been a school library, and I became a devoted fan, scouring used book stores for her novels. But my tastes changed and I stopped reading them. Star Flight is a novel that sat on the shelf for years and I finally took it down and read it. And actually, it’s pretty good.

Lauren Castle is the granddaughter of Victoria Frazer and Roger Brandt two movie stars who had a hot and steamy film set romance that resulted in the birth of Lauren’s mother. But it also resulted in Victoria Frazer’s mysterious death (or disappearance). The death was considered suicide but the body was never found. Lauren’s estranged husband, Jim Castle, was a documentary filmmaker who decided to make a film about Victoria, Roger, and Roger’s wife, Camilla. He died and never finished the film. When Lauren receives a note suggesting her husband and her grandmother were both murdered, she travels to North Carolina, the site of all the happenings, to find out the truth.

Lake Lure in North Carolina was home to many movie stars and films in the 1920s and 1930s, and more recently with films like Dirty Dancing and The Last of the Mohicans, well, recent at the time of the novel, anyway. Victoria and Roger had filmed Blue Ridge Cowboy there but an on-set romance developed. Things did not end well.

When Lauren arrives she lets people she meets know her as “Jim Castle’s wife” rather than as Victoria’s granddaughter. She also runs into an old flame, the type of “what might have been” relationship, Gordon. In the end, she choose Jim, what she and her mother deemed a “practical choice” instead of Gordon – a more romantic free spirit. Lauren’s marriage to Jim was on the rocks before his mysterious death, thus the two-year gap before she decides to find out once and for all what happened.

Lauren meets various people, all of whom have an opinion on Victoria, Roger, the affair, and even the local movie business. There’s Natalie, a woman who paints dramatic paintings (including the painting, “Star Flight”, which gives the book its title), and who sent Lauren the note bringing her to Lake Lure, but who seems not particularly helpful once Lauren arrives. There’s Gretchen, Victoria’s sister who runs the local gift store and seems obsessed with finding good uses for the weed, Kudzu. There’s Betsey, Victoria’s dresser, now ancient, but still sharp, devoted to Victoria, and in possession of an awful lot of information. There’s Roger, himself, who seems content to not stir up the past. He’s angered when Victoria finally tells him who she is. There’s Camilla, Roger’s beautiful Spanish wife who stood beside him even through his various affairs, including the one with Victoria. There’s Ty, Victoria and Gretchen’s brother, who’s made a name for himself as the local “mountain man”. And there’s Gordon, Lauren’s old beau whom she thinks she can’t have a new happy relationship with. There’s even an older, retired actor who was in Blue Ridge Cowboy with Victoria and Roger. And there’s an author who wrote a book called, The Firefly about Victoria.

Victoria basically interviews everyone she meets, at times pretending she’s continuing her husband’s project (the film about Victoria, Roger, and Camilla) and at times admitting who she really is and telling whoever she’s talking to that she wants to learn about her grandmother. She slowly finds out more information, but she’s no closer in finding out what happened.

Finally, there’s a masquerade ball – and Lauren goes dressed as Victoria, wearing the costume she wore in the film, a white ball gown with a white turban. Her date is Gordon, dressed as Roger’s cowboy character. At the ball, it’s clear from Roger and Camilla’s reaction that neither had anything to do with Victoria’s death. But Lauren is also affected by the heat, noise, and the confrontation. Gordon goes to get her a drink – at exactly the wrong time. Lauren is tempted outside and kidnapped. She’s taken to her grandmother’s tomb by the murderer and their accomplice. However, the accomplice gets cold feet at being involved directly in a murder – he runs off. Lauren is rescued. It seems she and Gordon will restart their relationship, possibly settling in North Carolina. No, I’m not going to spoil who the murderer is.

This book starts slow, but the final two or three chapters are really good. The attack on Lauren outside the crowded ballroom, and everything involved with the murderer and their accomplice are really well-written. There’s also some beautiful imagery in those pages, especially Victoria’s final resting place. But for romantic suspense, there’s less romance between Lauren and Gordon than there should be. Lauren keeps thinking to herself that it’s too late for them – yet she’s a widow and Gordon either never married or is long divorced, so there’s no reason they can’t get together again. Besides, I have a soft spot for “second chance” romances between older couples. Another issue with this book is it is written in the first person, which I found to be distancing from the story, rather than the intended drawing you in. Also, all the stuff about using kudzu in salads, to make tea, and medicinally smacked of an author shoe-horning in too much research. It did nothing to add to the story. The book ended a bit quickly – I definitely could have seen at least a chapter or coda showing Lauren and Gordon’s happy relationship. Still, the book is better than the last few books I’ve read by Whitney, and those last few chapters were very good. I can actually recommend this book.