The Lost Squadron by Dick Grace. Grosset and Dunlap (1932), 283 pp.
Red, a veteran aviator, is participating in the final mission of Captain Gibson’s group of stunt pilots. Gibson, who owns an airfield and an array of decrepit warplanes, provides aerial action for films produced by Epic Pictures. It’s a dangerous business, and already four of the original seven fliers have died in accidents. Only three remain -- Gibson, Red and young Phil Tate. They're finishing their work on a war movie directed by arrogant and insulting Arthur de Forst. Gibson once had an acrimonious affair with the star, Nena Lafollette, currently de Forst’s wife, but his amorous aspirations are now aimed at “The Pest,” the teenaged sister of one of the dead pilots. Tensions rise with the approach of the last and most difficult stunts.
This novel, which appeared originally as a magazine serial, combines two American fascinations of the 1920s and 1930s -- aviation and the movies. Grace’s descriptions of the stunts, based on his own flying experiences, are vivid and exciting. Much like similar sequences in Tedd Thomey’s Jet Pilot (1955) and Hank Searls’ The Big X (1959), they put readers right into the cockpit. The author’s portrayal of the pilots, whom he sees trapped somewhere between love and addiction, shows why they persist in their perilous occupation. His view of the film makers suggests that the director’s callousness is replicated throughout the industry. Meanwhile, Grace’s narrator, Red, adds punch to the story by frequently using very short sentences. His opener -- “I’m wanted for murder.” -- sets the tone. Much less successful are the book’s characters and plotting. Nena and The Pest do almost nothing to carry the story forward. Maybe if Grace had beefed up their parts, he could have kept things interesting for the final half of the book. As it is, the action pretty much stops about 100 pages before the novel reaches its expected conclusion. Shortcomings aside, The Lost Squadron (and its film adaptation) should hold the interest of some modern fans of both aviation fiction and Hollywood fiction.