T.J. Newman’s “Falling” is a well-oiled, audacious, supremely entertaining blockbuster about a terrorist plane hijacking; the twist being the ringleader isn’t on board the aircraft, but on the ground, holding hostage the pilot’s wife and two kids, a trigger-pull away from their demise.
The terrorist’s demands are preposterously simple: he wants Bill Hoffman to crash the plane, at a specific location; and he wants Bill to unleash a canister of something deadly, some kind of toxic gas, into the cabin as a show of compliance. Do that, and Bill’s family gets to walk away. Refuse, and well — never mind. There is a contingency in place; a second unidentified terrorist on the plane, who could be anyone, a passenger or member of the crew, who will see the mission through to its end.
So, if you’re Captain Bill Hoffman — what do you do?
My favourite movies include “Air Force One,” “Die Hard,” “The Rock,” and other films of that ilk. Newman’s novel is stapled together out of ingredients from these types of blockbusters. It has few macro surprises — it follows the genre playbook; one of the flight attendants in the aunt of an FBI agent, which is an excuse to get the feds involved early; the President deliberates over blowing the plane out of the sky; everyday people unite over a shared enemy; there’s a scene of extraordinary patriotism with disaster impending at a baseball stadium — but there are some micro ones, including efficient character building, and Newman’s decision to not make her protagonist a John McClane facsimile. To survive, and keep his family and the souls on board alive, Hoffman needs to outsmart rather than outfight his foe.
Faced with a seemingly impossible, unsurvivable scenario, where the easy option would be to curl up and die, the characters in “Falling” choose not to submit. It’s a suspense-filled pleasure reading Newman’s untangling of this chaos. This is unpretentious thriller-lit for those who like their plots at mach-speed.