๐ƒ๐จ๐ง’๐ญ ๐๐ž๐ฅ๐ข๐ž๐ฏ๐ž ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐‡๐ฒ๐ฉ๐ž ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ “๐…๐š๐ฅ๐ฅ๐ข๐ง๐ ”

I was eager to read the airplane thriller Falling because I’d been watching terrific movies set in the air: Red Eye, Executive Decision, Air Force One, Flight Plan, and Non-Stop.ย  I also re-read Chris Bohjalian’s dazzling, beautifully written thriller The Flight Attendant.ย 

So I wanted to love Falling, but the book falls flat again and again despite the insane hoopla it’s been generating.ย 

As the crime fiction reviewer for the Detroit Free Press, I often saw my fellow reviewers across the country rave about books that were badly.ย  Sometimes they even admitted as much, or came close to it, but shrugged off indifferent or even dreadful prose because they liked the plot.ย  Their cascading kudos, plus blurbs from best-selling authors and good packaging, could easily make a bad book successful.

That seems to have happened with T.J. Newman’s debut thriller about a pilot being given the choice by a terrorist to crash his plane or have his family killed.ย  The book has a beautiful cover but goes wrong in the very first chapter when the author grossly cheats her readers: the nightmarish flight she describes is only a nightmare.ย  That’s an amateurish mistake a conscientious editor should have warned her to avoid.

The frantic shifts in the opening chapter from one character to another are just as wrong-headed, and even worse, there are lines that need to be re-read because they don’t immediately make sense.ย  Despite a slew of blurbs from writers like Stephen King, Ian Rankin, and Diana Gabaldon, this book is marred by writing that’s either weak, confused, ungrammatical, or trying too hard.ย  Here are some examples:

Jo immediately understood why Big Daddy had failed to put a finger on the man’s essence.ย  He had an intangible mysteriousness, a mercurial quality of shadow.

A hollow dread seeped out of his heart.
ย 

Carrie stared at the floor.ย  The kettle began to screech and she shut off the burner.ย  The noise gradually softened until it was only the clock making noise again.

Daddy covered his mouth, a glint of Eureka! gleaming in his eyes.
ย 
A cold and hollow ache pooled at the base of his spine.
ย 
Stepping off the jet bridge stairs onto the tarmac, Bill squinted under his hand’s attempt to shield the sun.
ย 

Turning it clockwise, yellow digital numbers descended toward the new frequency.

Lying at Bill’s feet, broken and bloodied, her jaw hung open but no words came.

The author also doesn’t seem to know what “residue”ย  means or the difference between “definite” and “definitive”–among other problems with diction.

The story’s momentum is damaged by sometimes pointless flashbacks, one of which is three pages long.ย  Aspects of the plot don’t always make sense either, and that’s even more problematic.ย  Would a mother with young children let in a repairman who shows up unexpectedly without an ID–and then offer him tea?ย  And it’s unbelievable that her husband sees this man at home but a few hours later doesn’t recognize him on a video call.ย 

Perhaps the strangest element is the author’s relentless attempt to humanize the terrorists, whose reason for choosing this particular pilot is never really clear.ย  Almost as screwed up: the baseball players at targeted Yankee Stadium decide to keep playing even when they’ve been warned to evacuate because the plane is headed their way.ย 

Ten years as a flight attendant have given the author deep knowledge about planes and on-board protocols, but she overdoes the details at times, adding to the book’s overall weakness. It’s not entirely her fault, of course. Knowing that Falling book had been rejected by 41 agents, her publisher should have given the book the editing it badly needed.ย  They didn’t, which is either careless, cynical, or both.ย 

Lev Raphael is the prize-winning author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery and has been a newspaper, online, and radio book reviewer for over twenty years.

 

 

๐˜ฟ๐™š๐™ฅ๐™–๐™ง๐™ฉ๐™ข๐™š๐™ฃ๐™ฉ ๐™ค๐™› ๐˜ฟ๐™š๐™–๐™ฉ๐™: Research Can Be Murder

Inย Department of Death,ย the latest Nick Hoffman mystery set in the wilds of academia, Nick has become chair of his university’s English Department–but nobody reading the series could have predicted that would ever happen. It’s definitely not something that Nick ever wanted.

I introduced him to mystery readers in Let’s Get Criminal as an English professor who wasn’t respected in his Midwestern department for way too many reasons. To start with, he was a “spousal hire,” which meant he got his position only because the university wanted to hire his partner.

Spousal hires at a university can arouse a lot of animosity in their new colleagues even when they’re well-qualified, because they’re basically just part of a package deal. In most cases, they would never have been hired on their own at that point in time. Other professors will feel they’re intruders, unworthy of joining the rarefied club whose membership they guard so zealously. And it doesn’t take much to anger highly combustible professors anyway in an environment where grudges flourish like feral hogs, walking catfish, Burmese pythons, and other invasive species that are ruining the Everglades.

Nick was also looked down upon because he enjoyed teaching the most basic course the department offered: composition. His peers would do anything to avoid being stuck with it. That kind of course put him at the level of graduate assistants and adjuncts, and liking the hard work involved in helping students strengthen their writing skills created suspicion and even contempt: who was he trying to kid?

And then there was his scholarship: Nick is a bibliographer. A bibliographer of Edith Wharton. That means that he’s not only read every single book, story, review, and essay that Wharton wrote, he’s read everything that’s ever been writtenย aboutย her. In every language. The project took him four solid years. He’s annotated each item and created multiple indexes for the bibliography which is a splendid guide for anyone doing research about the American author who was the first women to win a Pulitzer for Literature.

That might sound significant, but to his new colleagues, it’s grunt work, uninspiring–and worse than that, his book isย useful. Unlike their own books which are written in abstruse critical jargon that only appeals to minuscule audiences.

I chose this focus for Nick’s scholarship because my college writing mentor was a Wharton bibliographer and I wanted to honor her years of research. And it appalled me how that book did not get her promoted to full professor when she should have been.

Nick has had a different path, pockmarked by murders of course. He did get promoted to full professor; a visiting authors’ fellowship was established in his name by a grateful student who struck it rich; and through a bizarre twist of fate in the 10thย book of the series, he’s heading up a department filled with people who loathe him more now than ever.

He regrets having agreed to become chair before the first week in his new position is over. What happens? Nick is unexpectedly privy to a bribery scandal that threatens to blacken the name of the university. Nick himself is the object of intense administrative harassment and spying. And of course, he becomes involved in yet another murder.

Can his research skills and his love of crime fiction help him out of this tangle of problems? They always have, no matter how little respect they’ve earned him from his colleagues.

In classic mystery form, the murderer and motive are revealed at the very end of the book amid a scene of crazy academic chaos unlike anything Nick has ever witnessed or dealt with before.

Lev Raphael is the former crime fiction reviewer at the Detroit Free Press and author of 27 books in a wide range of genres.ย  He coaches and mentors writers at writewithoutborders.com.