Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines


Ben H.Winters

By Carl Slaughter:


by Ben Winters
genre: alternate history

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor’s salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all–though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country’s arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.

Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we’d like to believe.

Ben H. Winters is the author of Underground Airlines (July, 2016) and The Last Policeman trilogy — The Last Policeman (2012), Countdown City (2013), and World of Trouble (2014) — for which he received the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction, a Macavity Award nomination and an Anthony Award Nomination, along with placement in numerous “Best Of” lists, including on Amazon, Slate, and NPR. The trilogy has been published in 14 languages. Ben’s other books include Bedbugs, Android Karenina, the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novels The Mystery of the Everything and The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, a Bank Street Best Book of 2011 and an Edgar Award nominee.


  • “The novel succeeds so well in part because its fiction is disturbingly close to our present reality… Winters has written a book that will make you see the world in a new light.”  ?The Washington Post
  • “Like Victor, Winters, who is white, has a wonderful ability to inhabit different characters…[and] creates a believable world out of telling details…The voices he conjures can be rough, but they ring true…As the book twists and turns to its conclusion, only one thing is clear. This is not a problem that will be easily solved, in Victor’s world or in ours.”  ?- The Boston Globe
  • “Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller. . . . The novel’s closing section contains several breathtaking reversals, a genuinely disturbing revelation, and an exhilarating final course of action for Victor.”?Publishers Weekly
  • “Explosive, well plotted, and impossible to put down, this alt-hist by the Edgar Award-winning author of the “Last Policeman” trilogy will attract readers of all genres. . . . Fast paced and filled with menace, the story has an ambience that makes it special.”?Library Journal (starred)
  • “A daring and very well constructed novel”?Booklist
  • “Astonishing . . . A timely novel focusing on race and equality . . . Winters handles the controversial topic with sensitivity, yet isn’t afraid to ask some bold questions along the way.”?BookPage
  • “[Underground Airlines] is powerful, suspenseful, and devastating-hard to put down, even harder to forget.”?Family Circle
  • “Strange, modern . . . [A] genre-bending detective yarn”?
  • “This is a smart and compelling thriller, set in an alternate reality that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to our own.”  ?
  • “Underground Airlines is a masterwork of world-building…[the book] gives you an incredibly complex character to explore it with, ensuring that your attention is well-spent down to the last page.” ?- LitReactor

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5 thoughts on “Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines

  1. I just went to my library’s website and placed a hold on this. 4th in line.

    (Although that’s not as bad as the queue for Joe Hill’s The Fireman, where I’m waaaaay back at no. 11.)

  2. I’ll be honest and say I’d read the hell out of this if it were written by a black (or possibly biracial) writer. Instead, I will keep an eye out far reviews from the black community, first, and only read it if it passes their sniff test.

  3. I will also be interested in reactions; there’s a very long queue for it in Boston’s system, and the readers’ comments (not marked by race) vary.

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