Nelson DeMille’s Night Fall is quite a ride. It deals with not one but two real world national tragedies, one of which I knew very little of and one I was quite familiar with, a cop whose search for the truth trumps everything else in his life and a sex tape. Here’s the deal. Detective John Corey works for the made-up Anti-Terrorist Task Force where he met his wife Kate Mayfield. Kate worked the TWA Flight 800 case back in the mid 90s when the tragic plane crash happened. At the anniversary of the crash, she puts a bug in John’s ear about how suspicious the case always seemed. Hundreds of people claimed to have seen some kind of flare leading up into the sky and hitting the plane, but the official report came out and said it was a mechanical failure. Since there’s no proof of what happened, the government was generally believed. John doesn’t like how things are adding up nor does he like being told by some government types that he needs to stay away from the case, so he dives in. There’s rumor that a couple was making love on the beach and recorded it, but no one seemed to ever track them down or find the tape. The thrust of the story involves John digging up enough witnesses and clues to try and find that tape.The second tragedy that looms over the story and eventually intersects it is 9/11. More on that in a bit.
I really liked the story for several reasons. First off, I knew almost nothing about the TWA 800 disaster because I was 13 at the time, so it all seemed plausible to me. I bought what they were selling and it seemed to make sense. I haven’t checked the details in the book against actual reports, but as far as the story itself goes, I was in. DeMille also has a talent for writing taut thrillers that keep the story moving along at a good clip. The missus and I actually listened to the abridged version, which is significantly shorter than the unabridged one, so I’m not sure if that was just good audiobook editing, or DeMille’s skill, now that I think about it. I also really dug Scott Brick’s reading of the book. He gives Corey this great, 50s style detective voice that I always like listening to. His women sound like most male readers–quiet men talking in a helium factory–but what are you going to do? I also liked the ending, but I will get to that shortly.
There was one specific aspect of the story that I didn’t quite like. The version we listened to starts off telling the story of the couple on the beach. There’s all kinds of flirting and lead-up and then we’re shown what they see: something firey flying through the sky and then a plane crash. I see two problems with starting the book this way. First off, we know there’s more to the case than what the government is telling us. I guess the explanation of the equipment failure could be bought, but it’s never all that convincing. Without this scene, there would have been a lot more questioning of the theories thrown out on both sides. The other problem this scene offers is that we already know the tape exists. That leaves the question of whether the tape still exists or not, but if the tape is gone, what’s the story about? Yet another eye witness account won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. This also takes out a lot of the mystery of the story. Here’s what I would have done as a writer, instead of focusing on the couple and telling the audience exactly what happened (it’s a third person narrator, so there’s no reason to doubt what’s happening for the record), I would have started the book off at the same location but instead of the couple zeroing in on the cop who found the lens cap on the beach. That would have given the proceedings more of a sense of mystery. But what do I know? I haven’t sold a million books, I can barely keep my blog on schedule.
Alright, finally to the ending. SPOILERS AHOY. Unlike the TWA 800 tragedy, I am quite familiar with 9/11. As soon as I realized the book was set in 2001, it was set in NYC and Corey was part of an anti-terrorist organization, I saw the writing on the wall: someone was going to be in one of the towers or one of the planes. It added a much larger ticking clock to the story in addition to all the other smaller ones going on (Will he solve the case before getting fired? Will someone kill him if he finds out too much? Will he get to the tape in a timely manner? etc.). It added an interesting sense of dread and drama to the story. I’m still not sure if it’s just clever writing or taking advantage of one of the worst attacks on US soil, but that’s how I felt. Okay, the SPOILERS KICK IN NOW. After Corey finally found the woman from the tape who still had a tape–she made a copy, which I had guessed, though not exactly in the same way I was thinking–the date was getting pretty damn close. Corey sets up a meeting with some government types he assumes have been covering up what really happened to Flight 800 at none other than Windows On The World, the restaurant at the top of North Tower of the World Trade Center. That huge ticking clock I mentioned before turns into Big-freaking Ben and that sense of dread gets pretty intense. I didn’t know anything about Corey, whether he was a recurring character or not, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. He did, so did his wife, but that’s about it. Everyone else bought it.
We’re still in SPOILER COUNTRY so beware. I’ve got a theory about the ending. I think whatever shadowy government organization that covered up the bombing (missile-ing?) organized the 9/11 attacks to really cover up whatever happened. Basically, Corey was getting to close to the truth, so someone arranged a terrorist attack that would not only draw attention away from the TWA 800, but also kill Corey and all the potential whistle blowers. It also happened to destroy both copies of the tape, which they couldn’t have known for sure, but it’s a hell of a misdirect. Of course, when I say all that, I mean in the fiction of the book’s universe, not real life. That’s probably obvious, but I just had to say it. I’ve read tiny bits of info on the two books that follow Night Fall in the Corey series–Wild Fire and The Lion–and know that one of the shadowy characters comes back. That seems to back up my theory. I have no idea if it’s outright proven or refuted in the pages of those books, though I would be willing to listen to or read them to find out.
Okay, spoiler time is over. Beginning aside, I still really liked this book. The real litmus test for audiobooks as far as I’m concerned is how well they help pass the time on our road trips to and from the Midwest. We wound up in the car for 11 hours a few weeks ago to see my family and Night Fall definitely helped kill all kinds of time on the way there. We were actually kind of sad that it wasn’t about an hour longer to cover the whole trip (we stopped it every time we stopped the car, the baby went on a crying fit or the rain made it impossible to hear, hence the lengthy listening time). As it was, we got stuck trying to find a radio station that wasn’t playing the last 15 seconds of an awesome song and then immediately going into a block of commercials. Maybe Wild Fire will be longer! We listened to two more audiobooks that I’m also hoping to review in the next week or two, so stay tuned!