Book: “Falling” by T.J. Newman
Publishing Info: Avid Readers Press/Simon & Schuster, July 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: 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.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
So it’s not a sub-genre of action movies that I find myself watching too much, but I do enjoy a good ‘a plane is in peril’ kind of movie. My favorite is 100% “Con Air”, though I recently experienced “Air Force One” for the first time and thought it was a hoot. Understandably these kinds of films aren’t really a thing anymore, but they can be a lot of fun, if a little mindless. I kept thinking about this genre when I picked up “Falling” by T.J. Newman, and figured that I would pick at it over a couple days and then go rent “Con Air” or something. Well, the Soupy Brain was back, because I read the entirety of “Falling” in one night, staying up way too late to do so.
“Falling” is a highly addictive thriller that sucked me in from the get go. Bill is a pilot who has picked up a shift, much to his wife Carrie’s chagrin, as he had plans with her, their son Scott, and their baby Elise. But almost the moment Bill leaves, Carrie finds herself and her children held hostage, and Bill is soon relayed a message by their kidnapper: crash the plane, or his family dies. From there, we jump from perspective to perspective as Bill has to try and figure out if he can have his cake and eat it too, while contending with the fact that there is another terrorist on board who is perhaps keeping tabs to make sure he doesn’t do anything. We have settings for Bill, for Carrie as she is interacting with her kidnapper, as well as flight attendant Jo, and various people on the ground who get leaks of information and try to track down the culprit. In a lot of ways it feels like “Speed” in the air, and frankly, the works for me on basically every level. “Falling” keeps the pace and tension going and rarely lets up, as every breakthrough of good news can potentially lead to a new problem, and every reveal can have something lurking that you don’t see coming. As mentioned above, I kept reading far later than I should have until I had finished. It’s entertaining as hell.
Character wise, it was a little bit of a mixed bag. By far my favorite people to follow were those of the flight attendants, led by the fearless Jo, as they try to figure out how to keep the passengers safe when things start to take turns. What I loved most about Jo is that she and Bill have a very close relationship, but Newman never falls back on hackneyed ‘there could have been something there’ nonsense which would motivate her to trust him so much. Bonus, she had great interactions with her coworker Big Daddy, another no nonsense flight attendant who was always good for a laugh. I also liked seeing Carrie interact with her kidnapper, and seeing her slowly pull out not only information from him, but how she also connects with him and builds a bond that could keep her and her children more likely out of harms way. I love seeing compassion used as a weapon, for lack of a better term, as sometimes it isn’t valued as much. Oddly enough, the least interesting character was Bill himself, as the main action and how it’s affecting him in the moment is really the only thing we learn about him. He’s a good man in an impossible situation, which was a bit bland, but ultimately, that’s really what you get in stories like this (hello, Nic Cage in “Con Air” and Keanu Reeves in “Speed”!).
But what I found to be one of the most compelling aspects of this novel (and a bit of a relief as well) is the character of Sam, who has taken Carrie, Scott, and Elise hostage and is making Bill make the choice between his family and his passengers/crew. I’ve been talking about airplane action movies a bit, and for the most part the bad guys are terrorists, criminals, psychopaths, and a lot of the time they are very two dimensional and chew the scenery until there is little left. That can be fun, but it can also be very problematic, and in the aftermath of September 11th terrorists taking over planes has become more of a touchy subject. In “Falling”, Newman manages to walk a very fine tightrope with Sam (mild spoilers here, in regards to a bit of his motivation, just so you know!). Sam is definitely doing something very bad, in which innocent people are going to die. But Newman slowly shows us Sam’s background through flashbacks, and his own words. I was super worried that he was going to be a Middle Eastern terrorist, but instead he is Kurdish, and through horrific trauma and loss he has lost himself in the desperation of both wanting revenge, but also to just be seen when he feels like the atrocities that his people are constantly falling victim to are not only preventable, but due to American jingoism as well as American indifference. Does it always land? No. Are there still some sticky elements that we’re treading into by making him a terrorist? Sure. But I thought that he was supremely compelling, and he was the character that I felt for the most.
“Falling” is a REALLY fun thriller, and if you haven’t picked it up yet this summer, do so! If you have some pool or beach time ahead of you, this will be a GREAT read to complement it! Though proceed with caution is air travel goes along with that…
Rating 9: SUPREMELY addictive and suspenseful, “Falling” feels like an airplane disaster movie of the 20th century, but with more rumination on how devastation can lead to violence.
“Falling” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2021”.