If I could’ve written this review the moment I finished Falling, the debut thriller novel from former bookseller turned flight attendant TJ Newman, I would have. But it was past three in the morning and I doubt I would’ve made a lot of sense. And my blog would’ve had more than its usual amount of typos. But I wanted to — I really did. So it’s the next day, and I must make my feelings known.
I’ll get a disclaimer out of the way. I’ve always been a big fan of high concept thrillers. From the moment I stepped out of the cinema after seeing Die Hard for the first time, I wanted more movies like that. Film makers thought the same, too. In quick succession we got Speed, Under Siege, Executive Action, and any number of Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks and their clones and inevitable sequels. I gorged them all, but one thing came to mind: it had to be really difficult to recreate the visceral onscreen tension on the page of a book. A few authors have been successful, namely legends like Ludlum and Clancy, but for some readers the sheer length of these books would put them off (not me, I hasten to add: I love these writers), but I am so very pleased to report that Falling, for me, is the first book I’ve read that captured the feeling I got when I saw Die Hard.
Bill Hoffman is an airline captain about to board Flight 416 from LA to New York. His boss called him in especially to cover this shift, leaving his wife Carrie and children, Scott and baby Elise, alone to attend Scott’s big game, one which Bill promised to attend. He’s not gone from the family house five minutes when his family are held hostage by the internet repair guy. Happily checking in to his flight, shooting the breeze with his co-pilot Ben and his cabin crew Jo, Daddy, and Kellie, Bill is unaware of the danger his family are in. It’s only when he’s up in the air that the kidnapper makes contact and sets out his demands. Bill has a choice: he either crashes the plane, with the loss of all souls on board, or he flies to JFK, in which case his family will be killed. What a decision! Whatever Bill does, people are going to die.
But he has support. He tells his cabin crew, going against instructions from the kidnapper, but decides to leave Ben out of the plan. Jo’s nephew, Theo Baldwin, is an FBI agent. He’s not exactly flavour of the month with his superiors, but he has a strong sense of what needs to happen as opposed to what his boss says should happen. Bottom line: Theo needs to react to a text from his Aunt Jo and find Bill’s family before the worst happens.
The relentless action and pace is skillfully divided between the cockpit of Flight 416, the cabin (its crew and passengers), the FBI hunt, and Bill’s family and kidnapper. TJ Newman never lets us rest for a moment, and still allows for significant character development and interaction, as well as moments of humour, which books like this need, in my opinion. Jo and Daddy are my favourite characters, and their job of securing the cabin and keeping their passengers safe is as exciting and nerve-wracking as Bill’s attempt to not cause any death. Even ATC officials and military generals get their moments to shine.
Falling is a lean, mean novel of intense excitement and originality. Even the kidnapper has a valid reason for doing what he’s doing. This isn’t a straight-up terrorist plot; there’s definitely more going on here than initially meets the readers’ eye. I relished every page-turning chapter of this book, and I heartily recommend Falling to lovers of the thriller genre, even if you plan to read it on your next flight out of LA.