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by Lynne Heitman
Onyx, February 2002
416 pages
ISBN: 0451410084

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At one time Alex Shanahan was the general manager of Majestic Airlines at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. She left that position after an incident in which a man working for Majestic was killed, something that people have been blaming on her ever since, and is about to start a new job with a start-up airline in Detroit. However, when one of the few people who supported her through that incident, John McTavish, dies, she feels a strong obligation to investigate what happened on behalf of his wife, Mae. The buzz is that he flew to Miami to bust up a drug deal set up by his brother, Terry, a notably irresponsible person who is deep in debt to various unsavory characters.

Although Alex has an insider's knowledge of the industry, not many people are willing to help her. She's more or less on her own in finding out what happened to John. The union has never forgiven her (every trip she takes results in her baggage being sent to faraway places), and the manager of the Miami airport has his own political aspirations that he's worried about. There's one guy by the name of Bobby Avidor who immediately leaps onto Alex's suspect list. While she is tailing him (and doing an admittedly bad job of it), she stumbles across a private investigator by the name of Jack Dolan with whom she joins forces.

Someone sent Alex an airplane logbook, which is a document that is never removed from its plane. Within the same package as the logbook is a huge diamond ring, which is also a key to the identity of the plane. In tracking down the origins of the logbook, Alex uncovers a major scam involving used airplane parts being passed off as new, parts that fail during flight, and which may have caused the crash of a flight in Ecuador.

I'm not normally a fan of amateur sleuths, but I found myself hooked on the lead character in this book. She shows feelings that seem realistic to the situations that she faces. She's not a superwoman kind of character but resourceful while facing up to her own limitations. Jack Dolan is also an interesting character who has emotional limitations of his own. Jack and Alex seem attracted to one another, but their relationship is handled in a non-clich» kind of way. Some of the secondary characters are less well drawn and a bit caricaturist with the exception of Felix, the assistant manager at a local motel who is a computer whiz kid and a breath of fresh air.

The plot is well developed and very credible. Heitman at one time worked in the aviation industry, and her background has enhanced the book. She does a great job of sustaining tension, and the story kept me turning the pages rapidly. The denouement is a bit overwrought, but on the whole, the book is solid. Recommended.

This book was titled TARMAC in the review copies, but changed to PARTS UNKNOWN for the general release

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, December 2001

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