book reviews by Althea

***** Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters

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Underground Airlines
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Winters’ ‘Last Policeman’ trilogy, so when I heard about his newest book; I picked it up right away, even knowing nothing about it. After reading – I think Winters has surpassed himself. This book is even better.

As the book’s blurbs lets us know, this is an alternate history, set in a present-day United States where the Civil War never happened. In this reality, there are still “Slave” and “Free” states, and of course, there are still runaways – and fugitive slave catchers. Unsurprisingly, there are also still abolitionists, and secret networks devoted to helping escapees make it to freedom. With an update in transportation technology, these networks are now referred to as ‘Underground Airlines,’ rather than railroads.

This is one of those books where I think it’s best to go into it not knowing too much about it, and to let the author reveal things at his own pace. Honestly, I think that even the publisher’s description of the book gives away too much. It’s enough to know that the story involves a fugitive slave catcher working for the FBI, and one particular case that he’s assigned to, which seems to have been given very special weight and significance by his ‘handler.’

As the case unfolds, not only do we discover a tense and thrilling mystery, but get to know a believably complex character, caught in an untenable situation. The society imagined here, with all its ramifications, is disturbingly logical in its parallels to our own. As the bare bones of the premise suggest, the book handles all the worst issues of inequality and racism in our country, and does it remarkably well, with real depth and sensitivity.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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