When you’re searching for a new book that will really thrill and grip you, it can sometimes be difficult to find one that does the job.
This isn’t the case with Falling, a novel by T.J. Newman! This book has proved very popular with readers all around the world thanks to its breathless and terrifying story of tough decisions – at high altitudes.
It’s a high-stakes thriller with plenty of interesting characters, unexpected turns, and questions of morality (If you like thriller stories, also check out The Last Thing He Told Me). Read our review to find out all about it!
Falling – Synopsis
Let’s begin with setting out the story. The bulk of the plot takes place on a cross-country flight to New York, where 143 passengers are expecting a regular flight.
However, thirty minutes before the flight departs, the pilot’s family has been kidnapped.
This throws up a bit of blackmail: the pilot is told that his wife and children will be killed unless he crashes the plane, killing all the passengers on board.
This immediately throws an impossible decision, pitting personal stakes against the lives of an overwhelming amount of people. What can the pilot do? How can he ensure everybody lives?
The flight takes place in something close to real time, which really pits the readers right in the heat of the action, as if they are passengers themselves on the flight.
However, it doesn’t all take place on the plane, because there are a series of brief flashbacks sprinkled throughout.
These are a very effective dramatic device, because they allow the novel to flesh out the key characters, showing who they are outside of these extraordinary circumstances.
For example, the pilot, Bill, is shown at flight school in the early days of his career.
Similarly, we also get some insight into the pasts of the people who have kidnapped his family, giving them a humanity that complicates the situation.
We also see the perspective from the ground, more specifically the air-traffic controller awaiting the flight at JFK, the airport in New York.
Stuck down on the ground, it lends an element of frustration to his duties, as he is unable to be on the plane wrestling the situation himself.
All he can do is guide from a distance – and hope for the best.
A Gripping Cast
One of the best things about the book is its wide range of characters, many of them thrown into impossible situations that you can’t truly prepare for.
In a smart move, T.J. Newman doesn’t weigh herself down with all 149 passengers on board the fated flight. If she had, that would simply be too many characters to juggle, and it would often take attention away from the key threats and the pilot’s complicated position.
Instead, Newman focuses on a selection of smaller groups. Obviously we have the pilot, Bill, but we also have his wife and children back home in Los Angeles, who are helpless in their kidnapped state.
On top of that, we also have the crew of the flight. These characters in particular are put in a tough position, caught in the middle of a conflict that could risk not only their lives but also the lives of the people they’re there to protect.
A flight crew is trained for the worse, but it doesn’t always happen. Instead, they’re quite used to serving out drinks and food, and checking on passengers’ comfort.
This means that when the real, rare moments of threat and danger strike, they’re shocking.
We also spend time with a small selection of passengers on the flight, which makes the stakes of the novel seem that much higher.
It’s tough enough knowing the pilot and the crew on board a flight that may not be reaching the airport again, and getting to know the unaware passengers on board makes the tragedy even greater.
Most readers will be able to put themselves in their position. We’ve all caught flights, assuming that they’ll take us where we’re going without any problems.
Of course, we may worry about technical or weather issues that could affect the flight, but few of us would ever predict a problem in the shape of what the pilot is going through here – which makes it all too easy to put ourselves in the shoes of the everyday passengers.
Finally, Newman also shows us the kidnappers. By spending time with these particularly unlikable characters, it makes the threat appear much more real.
These aren’t just unseen figures pulling the strings from afar, rather real people. It makes the threat tangible, especially when they’re with the poor kidnapped family.
The Authentic Factor
Writing is a difficult task, and it takes a writer of considerable skill to really immerse you in a situation, setting, characters, and more.
If the Falling were a movie (which it very well might be in the future!), it would be able to throw you into the thrilling action with blistering special effects and tense music. With a book, all Newman has is the written word.
It’s especially impressive, then, that she manages to structure and write the story in a way that makes it as white-knuckle and thrilling as it is.
However, there’s another element to this success, and that’s authenticity.
T.J. Newman is a first time author, and the fact that this novel is a debut makes it even more impressive.
What did Newman do before she published this? Well, she was a flight attendant.
That’s right, Newman has an enormous amount of experience up in the skies, having worked at two major airlines for ten years – between 2011 and 2021, right up to the year the book came out.
Her personal experience helps to give the book a sense of authenticity, which makes the threats even more dangerous and immediate.
No, Newman didn’t have to deal with a blackmail nightmare situation like in the book.
But she did spend a decade as part of various flight crews, which means she knows all about what they do, how they react, how they interact, and how they communicate.
This means that everything with the flight crew in Falling simply rings true. The speech and the actions that they perform all have a sense of reality to them, because Newman knows how it is in real life.
In a neat touch, Newman has said that she actually wrote a lot of the novel while on the flights, which really makes it seem real.
There’s writing what you know and then there;’s writing it at thirty thousand feet up in the air! It allows her to make the interior of the plane believable, allowing readers to better place themselves in the story – and feel the danger even more.
If we have to find a problem with the book, though, we must admit that its beginning is a tough one to stomach.
The very first line of the novel is a graphic, shocking one, and then it carries on for a few more pages of grisly details and stressful situations.
It’s a dream sequence, in short. Or rather, a nightmare. Bill is at home with his wife, we find, and he’s just woken up from a particularly distressing dream about a flight descending into bloody, explosive chaos.
His wife implies that he’s been having this nightmare a lot, and it’s an effective way to imply that he’s under a lot of stress at the moment, which will lend even greater stakes to the eventual blackmail situation aboard his flight to New York.
On top of that, it’s also an effective way to pre-empt the stressful dynamics of in-flight chaos that will feature in the book later, and show how he might cope under the pressures.
And further still? It’s a solid way to grip readers from the very first line, throwing them straight into an explosive action sequence, before pulling back to reveal that it was all a dream.
With that being said, some readers will be put off by the bold opening. It’s unnecessarily grisly and gory, which can be hard to stomach from the very first lines.
Sometimes, it’s better to be eased into a story, where we can learn to care about the characters before they’re thrown into danger – and then we fear for them much more as a result.
Instead the opening of Falling takes a sort of shock tactic, being chaotic and bloody in an almost over the top way. If readers continue past it, they’ll find the book naturally settles down.
However, many might turn away before they even get to that point, because the opening is so brash.
Falling is an impressive debut by T.J. Newman, with a smart structure and a compelling cast of characters.
Newman’s own decade-long experience as a flight attendant gives the flight and characters an extra sense of authenticity, which helps to make the threat even more believable and immediate.
It’s a thrilling story of difficult decisions – but you shouldn’t read it on a plane!