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The story of how a newbie author named T. J. Newman came to write FALLING and ultimately have it published is almost as interesting as the debut novel that bears her name. Newman, whose vocational history includes work as a bookstore clerk and a flight attendant, wrote a great deal of the book’s first draft on cocktail napkins during red-eye flights while passengers slept and her plane chased the dawn. For some reason, she had a lot of trouble obtaining representation but eventually found an agent, under whose guidance we now have what may be the summer thriller of the year.

The premise of FALLING is terrific. Bill Hoffman is a veteran captain for Coastal Airways who is given to nightmares but otherwise radiates quiet professionalism and competence that is infectious among his crew and passengers, and even his family. With regard to the latter, Hoffman is in a bit of a pickle with his wife, Carrie, when a last-minute schedule change requires him to pilot an all-night flight from LAX to JFK, forcing him to miss a couple of important family obligations. Duty calls. Carrie understands, but, well, you know.

"The pages turn themselves in T. J. Newman’s remarkably sure-footed debut, and you won’t be able to read it fast enough."

Morning is just starting on the West Coast, and Hoffman is well into his journey when his loved ones suddenly find themselves taken hostage. Hoffman receives a message --- an ultimatum --- shortly thereafter. He is to crash the plane with all souls on board. If he does not, then his family will be killed. Hoffman calmly takes the third road, the one not offered but that nonetheless is still there. He informs the hostage taker that he will not crash the plane and his family will not be killed.

What follows is a long set of a few hours with a number of moving parts. Hoffman is given instructions that he quietly and almost immediately disregards. FALLING is essentially a textbook example (though a very interesting one) of the idea that, when one is confronted with a seemingly impossible task, start with the problem that is front and center to begin solving it. Hoffman does exactly that.

This is a story of teamwork, as well as betrayal and deceit. There are twists and turns, tragedy, redemption, plenty of surprises, and possibly more information than you want to know if you are in the habit of defying the laws of nature by flying on a frequent basis. But the end result is that you will appreciate your flight captain and crew --- and their families --- just a bit more after you have finished the book than you did when you started it.

The pages turn themselves in T. J. Newman’s remarkably sure-footed debut, and you won’t be able to read it fast enough. That's okay, as I understand that her sophomore effort is well on its way to being wheels up. Read FALLING, and you’ll know why I (and everyone else) will be waiting for it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 6, 2021

by T. J. Newman

  • Publication Date: May 17, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1982177896
  • ISBN-13: 9781982177898