All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

T.J. Newman
Simon & Schuster
2021, 288p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}: You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

What an absolutely fascinating premise for a book.

The one thing that you understand when you board a plane, is that basically, you’re placing your life in the hands of the pilot{s}. And I’ve watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to know that sometimes, that trust is entirely misguided and a lot of those crashes? Are filed under “pilot error” in the records. This is a good way to ensure some people might never fly again as in this story, Captain Bill Hoffman is ready for a pretty standard flight LAX to JFK when he receives a message that someone has his family: wife Carrie, 10yo son Scott and 10 month old daughter Elise. And if he doesn’t follow specific instructions and crash this plane into a designated target, the man will blow up Bill’s family and his entire life along with it.

It’s an interesting moral dilemma – which do you choose? To save the lives of those that mean the most to you, the people you love more than anything, and therefore deliberately end the lives of 140+ others? Or maintain his professional integrity and safely land his plane, thereby sacrificing his family and destroying his life as he knows it anyway? And if he doesn’t comply with the demands, the man that has his family assures Bill that some sort of “back up” is on board the plane anyway, presumably someone who will carry out several of the tasks Bill is supposed to before crashing the plane and any steps he may take to save the plane may be sabotaged anyway.

I liked Bill – clearly a dedicated, competent pilot, the sort that picks up an extra shift when asked by a superior despite the fact that it’s his son’s opening Little League game and he promised he’d be there. This causes a little friction with his wife and when Bill leaves for the shift that includes the flight that will go so wrong, they’re out of sorts. After seeing evidence of his family in their terrible hostage situation, Bill has only minutes to decide which of the remote hijacker’s commands he will obey – and which he will not, risking retribution, should it be realised.

The author is a flight attendant (furloughed curing COVID-19) and the insider knowledge definitely helps drive this. A lot of cockpit and cabin procedure flesh out the situation, people charged with the job of keeping people safe 37,000 feet above the ground. The way in which they pull together as a team to accomplish things and the clear and concise ways that procedures and movements of the cabin and cockpit staff are explained, really help. It’s also written and paced pretty well (one thing aside, which I’ll mention later) and I felt like it definitely built the suspense and hooked me as a reader with the sense of impending doom and there were a couple of reveals later in the piece that felt really well done. Bill’s stress level increases but he also still, in a way, has a part of him that remains detached enough to plan and keep planning, even as he’s seemingly faced with one impossible choice with two terrible outcomes. It’s a short novel, which works in its favour I think, because even with that, there’s a part where the plot starts to drag, just slightly, around the time of the reveal of the real target of the plane.

However. Where it didn’t really work for me is the story of the hijackers and their motivation. I’m not American but even I knew the second one of them said their name, where it was going. And it’s at the moment, the ‘flavour of the month/year/decade/etc’ I guess and even though they’re “the bad”, there’s an attempt given to humanise them and try and get the reader to sympathise with them and look, in some ways, it almost works until you remember that there’s a bunch of random people on that plane who have nothing to do with anything and how does this make it any better? They may feel they have no other options but all this does is demonise their cause, for the average person at home who would read about this tragic accident on the internet or watch it unfold on CNN in real time, or something. It felt clunky, inconsistent at times (Sam’s behaviour with Carrie) and done before, many times, with only slight variation in specific geographical background. Unfortunately it’s too easy to do because America has had their fingers in so many foreign pies, where people live or die by the whim of whoever decides they’ll go in or pull out at any given time. The other thing that felt odd, and entirely off, pacing-wise, as I mentioned earlier, was the opening of the book which is quite horrifically gruesome but evident almost immediately that’s separate from the actual plot *and then he woke up* which….are people still toting this as a literary device? I’ve no doubt pilots have nightmares, this is not something you really need to establish.

Also the baseball scene is weird. Maybe you have to be American and overly patriotic to appreciate that. It’s very “band playing on while the Titanic sinks but”…..yeah, did not work for me.

This was an undoubtedly excellent premise and it’ll surprise no one I think, that the movie rights have sold. It has all the makings of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster: average, all-round American good guy dude with beautiful family and wonderful job faced with horrific moral dilemma with the ability for the movie to play out all the scenarios for the viewer’s pleasure in the pilot’s mind’s eye. And I did enjoy the read – as I said, the suspense was built well, I liked Bill and appreciated the dilemma and his inner thoughts. But there were some things that did not feel fresh and others that felt shoehorned into the plot a bit awkwardly.


Book #87 of 2021

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