Author: Michael Crichton
Thickness: 441 pages
Tagline: “There’s Danger in the Skies”
In my futile effort to read and review all books in my collection to avoid wastage of words, I scoured through my bookshelves and found this novel which I remember buying from the Big Bad Wolf Sale two years ago!
There is always something appealing about Michael Crichton’s novels. Perhaps it’s the way he puts in so much research into his work; or the way he explicitly writes on a theme that parallels the realities of our world. Whatever it is, it is of no surprise that countless novels of Crichton has been adapted into movies, such as Jurassic Park, Congo, Eaters of the Dead (13th Warrior), Timeline, State of Fear, Disclosure, Sphere, and The Lost World. His range of novels covers almost every genre imaginable is a testament to what a great writer Crichton was.
Strangely though, I don’t think Airframe has been made into a movie yet. Its premise sucked me in and gave me much promise that it had all the ingredients of making it to the silver screen one day. However, as I read on, I figured it may be a better idea to keep the novel as it is…
The story starts off promisingly like an episode taken off the pages of the X-Files or Fringe.
A Trans Pacific Airlines (TPA) Flight 545 passenger jet is flying from Hong Kong to Denver when it experiences some turbulence in airspace. The pilot then requests for an emergency landing in Los Angeles, requesting for 40 ambulances to be on standby… When the plane lands, the ground rescue crew is shocked to see the carnage left inside the aircraft that resulted in three deaths and more than 50 passengers injured. What happened onboard the TPA 545?
The story then introduces us to the protagonist, Casey Singleton, who is the Vice President of the QA at Norton, the company that makes the ill-fated N-22 widebody aircraft, and also the rest of the team in Norton who begin their investigation to solve the mystery of the incident. Their investigation is put on additional pressure against the backdrop of a pending major sale of the similar Norton N-22 to China.
As Casey begins putting pieces of the puzzle together, she realises that her investigation could jeopardise much more than just the sale. It could cost her her life as well! There seems to be something else more sinister at work behind the scenes….but are they also connected to the TPA 545 incident?
Reading a Michael Crichton novel is like sitting in a classroom. He doesn’t just give you a thrilling ride…he lectures you. Seriously. With zero knowledge about aviation, I had expected to struggle through the numerous airline jargon in the book. Surprisingly, Crichton manages to write in a way as though he is ‘educating’ the readers in the world of aviation! At the end of the story, I felt rather pleased to know more about some terminology like FAA, slats deployment, QAR, thrust sensors, etc.
The main hook of the novel was keeping the readers guessing as to what happened onboard the TPA545. Although Crichton managed to satisfactorily build the suspense towards the climax, I felt a little underwhelmed when the truth was revealed. Perhaps it was the subdued pace of their investigation, or the drag of some of the non-action scenes, or perhaps the lack of more action scenes.
Glue Factor (difficulty of putting the book down!)
With the pace a little too slow for my liking, Airframe definitely didn’t have the extra thrust to make me finish the book faster. Fortunately, the book was made up of short chapters, which certainly helped me to get through some of the slow parts.
Although I must admit the book had me thinking about the TPA 545 riddle right till the end, I personally felt the pace didn’t match the hook of the book. Most readers would want to find out what happened on the plane, but getting there is quite tiresome and the truth may not be entirely pleasing either.
Great premise, great characters…unfortunately slowed down by the pace of the investigation and under-climatic reveal.
Of course, it is always a pleasure to read Crichton’s handiwork of intricate research and homework. The other lesson in parallel reality we can glean from Airframe is how sleazy media can be in sensationalising news – so we better do not believe everything we read!