Fasten your seatbelts low and tight across your lap, open that tiny bag of peanuts, and get ready for a rollicking fun flight as Rene Gutteridge, the funniest inspirational novelist in the business, pens SKID, her third installment in the Occupational Hazards series and the best of the bunch. This time, Gutteridge turns her pen to the airline industry, managing to incorporate enough wacky characters and oddball situations to fuel a year-long television sitcom.
In case you missed SCOOP and SNITCH, the first books in the series, here's the premise. The Hazard Clowns, a family of seven homeschooled children and their parents, are about to be disbanded after the parents are killed in a freak hot tub accident. Hank Hazard, the shy gentle mime of the group who has never dated, looks for new work and eventually lands a job as an undercover spy for Atlantica Airlines, which is trying to figure out why it's in a slump. His first assignment is to be the highest maintenance passenger on Flight 1945 from Atlanta to Amsterdam and report back to the airline on every possible detail of the flight.
As it turns out, this is no ordinary flight. Not only does Hank have to deal with his work assignment, but his pilot is one of the more unusual ones in the fleet. C.J. Brewster-Yarley is an aging female who relies on post-it notes stuck to the windshield to remember how to fly the plane. She's famous for having crashed a plane into the Bermuda Triangle years ago, but leading the passengers and crew to safety. Other strange stories are tagged to her career…and this flight is about to be one of them.
Some valuable diamonds are in-route and the object of interest by more than just their courier, which promises further mayhem. Overseeing the passengers is GiGi, a 55-year-old senior flight attendant battling menopause, who can't seem to get the air cabin temperature comfortable enough for her hot flashes. Making the flight is positive-thinking passenger Lucy Meredith, who seems to be channeling Oprah (her bracelet reads WWOD --- What Would Oprah Do?) and is hoping to revamp her life after some bad romances. She has just discovered that her ex-boyfriend is on board with a new flame. Further complicating things is First Officer James Lawrence, who manages to offend just about everybody. Add to this cast of characters a prisoner who speaks limited English flying under the care of an FBI agent whose gun has just been taken away by the pilot, a certified companion pig for a supposedly “emotionally-challenged” women, a federal aircraft inspector, and a 103-year-old woman about to “pass on” at any moment.
How fun --- and weird --- can this novel possibly get? The answer: more fun than you'd ever anticipate and weirder than anything you'd begin to imagine. Gutteridge is the author of a dozen novels, including the hilarious Boo series, but funny as that series was, this one outshines it. As events unfolding on the plane get more and more hilarious and wacky, she somehow weaves a faith element into the story that feels natural and true. There's even a little light romance for Hank. Soon, in true dramatic airline movie-type style, the pilot is incapacitated and the lives of the passengers hang on the talents of a former blimp pilot and some of the passengers and crew. And, of course, whether the pig likes jelly or not. Yes, you read that right.
SKID is easily read as a stand-alone novel, as are the first two in the series. With three great books so far in her Occupational Hazards collection, Gutteridge's readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment. You won't be able to put this one down.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on May 20, 2008