Departure Lounge

A thief pursues the urban legend that his missing friend died in the 1979 plane crash at Mount Erebus, Antarctica.

Jonathan Cape (UK). Random House (UK). Editions Christian Bourgois (France) Salle D'Embarquement, Translation by Isabelle Chapman. Europa Editions (US). Edizione EO (IT) Sala Partenze, Translation by Claudia Valeria Letizia.


Prologue: 1979

The TV newsreader is wearing a suit and tie. At the end of the bulletin he looks down from the autocue to read from a sheet of paper. He says Flight 901 from the Antarctic scheduled to land in Christchurch at 7 p.m. is three hours overdue. He pauses then, as if he is about to add something, but doesn't. He puts the sheet of paper down and turns to the weather girl and says: and now for today's weather.

The weather girl clasps her hands in front of her midi-skirt as she reads out the summer temperatures. The painted map behind her is draped with spiked magnetic lines. She looks strained as she moves southward through the regions.

When she comes to Gisborne and stretches out her left hand, her fingers are trembling. Towards the bottom of the North Island her voice is trembling as well. She blinks as she speaks to the camera. By the time she comes to summarise the temperatures in the four main centres her voice is breaking. The weather girl is crying.

The TV camera cuts back to the newsreader. He repeats that the flight from Mount Erebus, Antarctica, is overdue with 237 listed passengers and twenty crew on board. The newsreader says goodnight.


"Chad Taylor already has gotten a lot of attention in his native New Zealand, including many enthusiastic reviews and a couple of prestigious literary fellowships, but he hasn't made much of a dent in the United States. Only one of his four previous novels, Shirker (2001), has been published here, and though a film adaptation of his novel Heaven was released by Miramax in 1998, it doesn't seem to have found much of an audience. Departure Lounge may not change any of that but it certainly ought to, because it is smart, original, surprising and just about as cool as a novel can get.

"Taylor has a Web site, but it doesn't tell a whole lot about him beyond promoting his novels and his collection of short stories, The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself (1995). He was born in Auckland, where much of his fiction is set, and he has a strong interest in films, television and photography (the influence of all of which can be seen in Departure Lounge). He appears to have no patience with anything excessively "sensitive, politically correct" (his own words), and he seems to enjoy rebelling against that particular orthodoxy by exploring "offensive ideas," whatever that means.

"What matters, though, is that Taylor can flat-out write. His style owes a lot to Raymond Chandler and lesser apostles of noir, but at the same time it's very much his own. His prose is spare but with a strong undercurrent of emotion; "cool" certainly is the word for him, but there's a good deal of heat beneath. Thus for much of its course Departure Lounge appears to be the story of a hip, nonchalant, resourceful criminal named Mark William Chamberlain who deftly breaks into houses and apartments, but gradually a deeper and darker story emerges: that of a girl, Caroline May, who disappeared more than 20 years ago, when she was in high school. – Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post (Free registration required)

"Terse, brooding, contradictory on the surface and quotable." –

"New Zealand writer Chad Taylor plays with the crime/noir genre for his own philosophical purposes in an open-ended way that subverts reassuring convention… Taylor in effect has taken the not-knowing at the mystery genre's core and enshrined it, occupied its amorphous territory and made of it, as in this book's emotional peak, a luminous art." – P.G. Koch, Houston Chronicle

"Taylor's precise language provides a noirish cool, and his deft handling of the story, which seamlessly shifts between decades, lifts Departure Lounge above common mysteries." – Vikas Turakhia, Plain Dealer

"Effortlessly cool… zings with menace and feeling" – Esquire UK 00.02.06 (Cult Novel of the Month)

"There's so much pleasure and bafflement to be derived from this thriller by novelist Chad Taylor that it seems like an afterthought to point out that it's also a fascinating portrait of life in modern-day New Zealand… A fine read and an interesting look at unfamiliar terrain." – Dick Adler, Chicago Tribune

"This enigmatic noir from New Zealand author Taylor opens on a friendly pool game between disarming narrator Mark Chamberlain and property developer Rory Jones at an Auckland billiards parlour. After the two men part company, Chamberlain admits "the following night I broke into his apartment and stole everything that wasn't nailed down." Chamberlain, we learn, is a professional burglar. In the apartment, to his surprise he discovers [a shrine] to Caroline May, a high school classmate who disappeared many years earlier. Taylor brilliantly interweaves clues concerning Caroline's disappearance, including some implicating Chamberlain himself, with the thief's insightful reflections on appearance and reality… Taylor, who compares favourably with Russell Banks and Paul Auster, should appeal to readers who appreciate sophisticated plots and fully human characters." – Publishers Weekly 20.02.06 (Starred review)