Review: The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad

Title: The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad
Publisher: A John Scognamiglio Book
Genre: Historical (40s), Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher


Inspired by fascinating, true, yet little-known events during World War II, The Long Flight Home is a testament to the power of courage in our darkest hours—a moving, masterfully written story of love and sacrifice.

It is September 1940—a year into the war—and as German bombs fall on Britain, fears grow of an impending invasion. Enemy fighter planes blacken the sky around the Epping Forest home of Susan Shepherd and her grandfather, Bertie. After losing her parents to influenza as a child, Susan found comfort in raising homing pigeons with Bertie. All her birds are extraordinary to Susan—loyal, intelligent, beautiful—but none more so than Duchess. Hatched from an egg that Susan incubated in a bowl under her grandfather’s desk lamp, Duchess shares a special bond with Susan and an unusual curiosity about the human world.

Thousands of miles away in Buxton, Maine, a young crop-duster pilot named Ollie Evans has decided to travel to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. His quest brings him to Epping and to the National Pigeon Service, where Susan is involved in a new, covert assignment. Codenamed Source Columba, the mission aims to air-drop hundreds of homing pigeons in German-occupied France. Many will not survive. Those that do make the journey home to England can convey crucial information on German troop movements—and help reclaim the skies from the Luftwaffe.

The friendship between Ollie and Susan deepens as the mission date draws near. When Ollie’s plane is downed behind enemy lines, both know how remote the chances of reunion must be. Yet Duchess’s devotion and her singular sense of duty will become an unexpected lifeline, relaying messages between Susan and Ollie as war rages on—and proving, at last, that hope is never truly lost.


The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad  is an informative yet poignant novel which takes place during World War II.

In 1940, Susan Shepherd and her grandfather Bertie answer their country’s call to duty when asked to provide homing pigeons for Britain’s latest covert operation. Operation Columba is a clever plan in which hundreds of pigeons will be dropped over France. The hope is French citizens will send the pigeons back to their owners with valuable information detailing Nazi troops within their country.  Susan and Bertie welcome their opportunity to serve their country but Susan cannot help but fear for the safety of their flock. The only pigeon she refuses to send is her hand-raised pigeon, Duchess. With the Nazi bombings of London intensifying, Susan and Bertie anxiously await the return of their pigeons which they hope will provide critical details of the Nazis activities.

In Buxton, ME, Oliver “Ollie” Evans is frustrated by the United States’ refusal to become involved in the war in Europe.  He lives on a farm with his parents and he is an experienced pilot due to his family’s crop dusting business. Following a tragic loss, Ollie is determined to travel to Britain and join the Royal Air Force which consists of other Americans who are helping the RAF.  Despite the difficulties he encounters on his journey, Ollie’s dream is within grasp when  an altercation with RAF Flight Lieutenant Clyde Boar changes his destiny.

Following a serendipitous metting, Ollie is sent to work with Susan and Bertie on their farm.  Forming a fast friendship, their lives take yet another unexpected turn through a series of unanticipated events.  Susan is left to worry about Duchess and Ollie’s safety while at the same time facing an increasingly worrisome crisis with Bertie. Duchess plays a heartwarming role in their lives but will outside forces continue to keep them apart?

The Long Flight Home is an engaging novel that is well-written and educational. The plot is quite unique and highlights a little known yet extremely important mission in which homing pigeons play a vital role in the early years of World War II. Susan, Ollie and Bertie are well-developed and appealing characters that are easy to like and root for. This clever debut by Alan Hlad is well-researched and provides a fascinating peek into an intriguing part of World War II history.

An emotional, riveting novel that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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