Title: Flight Dreams (The Mark Manning Mysteries 1)
Author: Michael Craft
Cover art: Mumtaz Mustafa
Publisher: Open Road Media
Buy link: Buy Link Flight Dreams: 1 (The Mark Manning Mysteries)
Length: Novel/230 pages
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: A bit dated with somewhat flimsy characterization, but still a decent mystery and a good series opener.
Blurb: Investigative journalist Mark Manning is on the trail of a story that could make his career. Airline heiress Helena Carter, who vanished seven years ago, is about to be declared legally dead. Her fortune, valued at over one hundred million dollars, will go to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and the Federated Cat Clubs of America.
Manning is the only one who believes that the missing Chicago socialite is still alive. And he’s just been given an ultimatum by his publisher: Prove it, or he’s history. Determined to keep his job—and hoping to secure the five-hundred-thousand-dollar reward from Carter’s estate, as well as the coveted Partridge Prize for investigative journalism—Manning enters a world of religious fanatics who could turn back the clock on gay rights. At the same time, Manning grapples with his own sexuality as he falls in love for the first time—with the man of his dreams.
Flight Dreams is the first novel in the Mark Manning series. It was published for the first time in 1997. Thanks to the Open Road Media, we can now enjoy the series in the digital format. It’s also one of the author’s earliest works. You can see that especially in the characterization and the novel is somewhat dated, but author still delivers a satisfying mystery and gives us a good set up for the rest of the series.
The book is written in present tense which might not appeal to some readers. While I’m not a fan of such narrative, I got used to it (which isn’t always the case) and hardly noticed it by the end of the book. From the first scene, there is something old-fashioned in the atmosphere of the novel. It’s not just the superficial things, like all the characters smoking or absence of (now everywhere) available technology, but in the way the characters speak, the way scenes are constructed, etc. I heard that the author’s novels were compared to those of Agatha Christie, but the atmosphere has something of Raymond Chandler, even if Mark Manning is no Philip Marlowe.
Mark is the 39-year-old star of a fictitious Chicago newspaper. He was given the ultimatum: prove his pet theory that missing heiress Helena Carter is alive, or lose his job. If you are anything like me, chances are you wouldn’t like Mark very much. Mark has an opinion on everything – and it’s a definite opinion. He is not afraid to share it with everyone and tell them how wrong they are. Not to mention the fact that he talks too much and not always at the most appropriate moments. His quest for the truth is interlaced with his gradual acceptance of his sexuality. It’s not something that comes naturally from the narrative – it is rather a secondary, independent narrative and only at the very end, it merges with the main story line. I couldn’t quite get a handle on the characters, on who they are out of the confines of the pages. What makes Neil, Mark’s love interest, so appealing that Mark decides to step out of the closet? What makes Roxanne, Mark’s friend, such a mess? (Warning to readers: Mark has a very brief, angry sex scene with Roxanne.)
The best part of the novel is the mystery. As Mark visits all the parties interested in Helena’s fortune, her friends and family members, an image of the woman’s troubled family past emerges. Past a certain point, it’s not difficult to guess what happened but it’s still interesting to watch Mark getting there. The mystery was well paced and I didn’t think it needed the somewhat melodramatic twist in the end. It had one of the most interesting clues I have ever encountered in a mystery. Another thing that I enjoyed is the character of Humphrey Hasting, journalist of a rival paper, an epitome of trashy journalism.
All in all, Flight Dreams is a decent mystery and a good opener for the series. I hope the sequels will show Mark’s growth as a character and further explore his and Neil’s connection. If you enjoy mysteries in general, somewhat old-fashioned in particular, I think you would enjoy this novel. Recommended with some reservations.