TJ Newman – Falling (Blog Tour)
Published by Avid Reader Press (Simon & Schuster), hardback £14.99. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Sabah Khan for facilitating this, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
First, the official blurb: 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.
High-concept standalone thrillers are a hardy perennial genre, and so many of them remind me of the Hollywood action blockbuster movie – unsurprising, since for decades books have been the source of some of those films. Falling is the latest in a long line poised to jump between the two (screen rights have been sold to Universal Pictures), but there’s a lot more going on in these pages than just heart-stopping action.
A warning: if you are at all a nervous flyer, you might want to think carefully about opening this book, because from the opening line – and oh my, what an opening line! – this flight is an OMG, WTF IS GOING ON NOW?! ride. Still want to read? Then strap in and be ready to adopt the brace position.
We ratchet down after the opening, but there’s not much time to pause for breath before the anxiety begins again. Captain Bill Hoffman takes on an extra flight duty as a favour to his boss, missing his son’s first baseball game of the season. His wife, Carrie, is angry, but after Bill leaves for the airport she has bigger things to worry about. Much bigger things.
Carrie and their two children are taken hostage. Bill gets a video call in the cockpit after the plane has taken off: “It’s simple, crash your plane, or I kill your family. If you tell anyone, your family dies.” Bill cannot let his family die, and he cannot let his passengers and crew – the 143 souls on board – die. So we know he is going to do something, tell someone, get help in some way.
He tells flight attendant Jo, a long-time colleague and friend, that she must protect the passengers – if you thought flight attendants are just on board to bring you coffee, you are very wrong – and she in turn asks someone on the ground to rescue his family. We switch between Bill in the cockpit, Jo and the team in the passenger cabin and an FBI agent on the ground throughout the novel.
We get little glimpses of the main characters’ personalities – “determined” and “resilient” featuring heavily – and flashbacks round out the pictures of the kidnappers-cum-hijackers so we can no longer think of them as one-dimensional terrorist bad guys (though don’t look too closely at the why, it’s not there to be scrutinised). As well as the obvious (and sometimes eyebrow-raising) heroics of Bill and a couple of other characters, Newman also touches on the reactions of some ordinary people, a reminder that when terrible things happen, good people step up, and here it leads to some unexpectedly poignant moments amid the relentless build-up of tension.
All the emotional buttons are pushed: heart-in-mouth fear, anxiety, horror, pride at what people find themselves capable of, and lump-in-the-throat empathy. There is tension and release. There is action and skill and gut-instinct choices. There are lovely lines and distinct voices in a novel of deceptively smooth writing.
The ending is inevitable, but when the voice comes from the cockpit at (of course) the very last minute, I still felt like standing up and cheering. This might be a debut novel, but we’re in the hands of someone with great skill.
TJ Newman, a former bookseller turned flight attendant, worked for Virgin America and Alaska Airlines from 2011 to 2021. She wrote much of Falling on cross-country red-eye flights while her passengers were asleep. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Falling is her first novel.
You can follow the author on Twitter here: @T_J_Newman