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T.J. Newman on Her Favourite Aviation Stories

Posted on 17th June 2021 by Mark Skinner

Everybody is talking about T.J. Newman's spectacular debut thriller, Falling. Set at 35,000 feet on a flight to New York, the unbearably suspenseful page-turner involves a blackmailed pilot, a planeload of passengers and a life-threatening, impossible dilemma. In this exclusive piece, the author recommends her favourite books across fiction and non-fiction that involve aeroplanes, aviation and brilliant writing.      

My debut novel Falling tells the story of Flight 416, a plane headed to New York from Los Angeles. What the passengers onboard this flight don’t know is that just before takeoff, their pilot’s family was kidnapped. He has been told that he if he doesn’t crash the plane – they will die. The story then follows the valiant attempts by the crew and passengers in the air to the FBI and family on the ground in their attempts to do the impossible. 

Flying is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments – and greatest sources of curiosity and intrigue. My book Falling is a non-stop, page-turning thriller full of twists and turns. But what I love most about stories set in the world of aviation, is that there is no shortage of angles from which to view it. Below, I’ve assembled a handful of my favorites from the genre. 

Flight 232 by Laurence Gonzales

This stunning work of non-fiction reconstructs the story of United Flight 232, the DC-10 that suffered complete hydraulic failure and crash landed in Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. Miraculously, 184 of the 296 passengers onboard survived. Gonzales weaves timelines with ease and explains one of the greatest triumphs and failures in aviation history through impeccable detail in a way that is at once respectful while reading like a thriller.

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An absolutely gripping piece of real-life detective work, Gonzales' meticulous piecing together of a horrific aeroplane crash from survivors' testimonies and official records reads like the most page-turning fiction.
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Airframe by Michael Crichton 

The king of the ‘90’s white-knuckler takes on aviation with his iconic techno-thriller style. Fingers are pointed after a major safety incident onboard a wide-body commercial aircraft results in multiple fatalities. Short chapters, clear descriptions, and alternating viewpoints make an immensely enjoyable read where dense aerospace engineering concepts are easy to grasp.

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The author of Jurassic Park unleashes another blockbuster thriller, this time centred on a mysterious aviation accident and the corporate forces determined to keep the terrible truth from coming out.
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Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

Written by a 747 pilot, this book is a stunning meditation on the art of flying. Vanhoenacker’s musings on piloting are a poetic and metaphysical approach to a world most often seen through an analytical and logic-based lens. This is a right-brain take on a left-brain world and it will leave you desperate to board a flight so as to reexperience that world through his eyes.

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Mixing the mechanics of aviation engineering with lyrical descriptions of the majesty of flight, the ruminations of a 747 pilot make for enthralling reading and provide a window into an exclusive world.
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The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

This New York Times bestseller (which has since been turned into a smash-hit TV show on HBO) is a deep-dive into the more salacious aspects of being a flight attendant. As a former flight attendant, I’d say this book is far more fiction than reality – but it sure is a helluva lot of fun.

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Salacious and compelling, Bohjalian’s unputdownable thriller revolves around a hedonistic member of flight crew who wakes in a Dubai hotel room next to a bloody corpse and her subsequent attempts to piece together the events of the tragic night.

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In the Unlikely Event by July Blume 

Best-selling author Blume gives an interesting angle on aircraft accidents: the witnesses and survivors on the ground. Set in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s, it’s the story of a community reckoning with the aftermath of multiple plane crashes and the way the tragedies intertwine the lives of family, friends, and strangers.

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Expertly evoking the atmosphere of 1950’s small-town America, the author of Forever takes a real-life tragedy of three downed aircraft and conjures a deeply moving and complex study of a community united in grief.
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