Nelson DeMille has managed a truly remarkable feat; to write a suspenseful, taut, interesting and engaging novel about the crash into the ocean off Long Island on July 17,1996 of TWA Flight 800. The book is written in memory of the two hundred and thirty passengers and crew members who perished in that midair explosion; in my opinion he uses the flexibility available to the author of a work of fiction to discuss the alternate theories of the crash and perhaps come closer to the truth than any other discussions that I have read.
The supposedly fictional device which Demille uses to allow him to develop a believable storyline is that a couple engaged in adultery were videotaping themselves on a deserted beach near the site of the crash and caught the flash of light streaking towards the plane from the ocean surface that was seen by so many eyewitnesses but discounted by various alternative explanations in the official version of what caused the accident. Of course, the couple immediately flees the scene and as Chapter One ends they are entering their motel room and arguing about whether they should erase the tape or turn it over to the authorities given the huge personal price each of them would undoubtedly pay if their affair was made public in such a sensational fashion. (The X-rated scenes were very explicit and quite lengthy.)
The story resumes five years later. The investigation has been concluded with an explanation (the explosion of volatile fuel vapors in the nearly empty middle fuel tank) that failed to satisfy not only the usual conspiracy theorists and but the many individuals such as myself who simply remained confused about several elements of the official version of the causes of the crash. John Corey, a former NYC homicide detective is now pursing "the second act of a one act life" as a contract agent on the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. His second wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, who is also a member of the task force, asks John to attend the beachside memorial service for the victims of the crash. After the service, Kate decides to violate specific instructions given to all agents who worked the case never to discuss it with anyone except on a need to know basis and confides to John the reasons for her misgivings about the official conclusion. They discuss the seven major theories regarding the crash (death ray under development at Brookhaven Labs, underwater methane explosion, reflection of burning jet fuel, etc.); then conclude their evening in a manner that reminds John of "that X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully go ....".
Kate and John are obviously conflicted about John conducting his own unofficial investigation regarding the possible existence of a definitive videotape showing the crash; they realize that their discovery may not only ruin their professional careers but could possibly be life threatening if there really has been a cover up involving foreign terrorists and the clandestine operatives of US Government intelligence agencies. Of course, the reader knows that they will pursue the truth whatever the price they pay personally, both because that is the sort of individuals who they are and because otherwise DeMille wouldn't be able to tell his story. And have no doubts, this would have been a wonderful story even if it were totally fiction; the fact that the author did such a marvelous job of never contradicting the known facts concerning the crash makes it absolutely riveting. The discussion of the obvious flaws in many of the wild theories that have been advanced (e.g. a military coverup of a stray missile fired as part of the naval exercises being conducted in the area that night) on occasion added to my knowledge of the events and made the story quite plausible.
The fact that DeMille clearly had done a lot of research on the subject of the TWA 800 crash caused me to wonder how much of the material which he presents as fiction is actually disguised reality (in order to protect his sources). He states in his author's note that he has relied not only on published reports of the events but also on interviews which he has conducted with both investigators who worked on the case and eyewitnesses to the crash. Since the dissatisfaction of many of these individuals is well known, I strongly suspect that the anonymity which the disclaimer accompanying this work of fiction would provide for such individuals led them to be anxious to assist DeMille in writing a book which clearly is meant not only to entertain the reader but also to present an alternative theory of those events on the night of July, 17, 1996. (After all, how often has it been said "If only someone had their video recorder on that night"?)
I want to emphasize that this is not only an interesting speculative examination of the crash, but a really good police procedural. John Corey is an extremely interesting and entertaining character. His interaction with Kate is integral to the story, and some of the conversations with his former partner Dom Fanelli are priceless. (I really enjoyed the humor which Demille interjected into the story, both for the realism which it added to the character development and as a counterweight to the depressing nature of the subject.) As the story raced towards its conclusion (the general outline of which becomes obvious about fifty pages before the end), I was increasingly fascinated by how DeMile could end it without veering from the fidelity to all the publicly known facts which he had maintained throughout. I was not disappointed, although of course saddened both by the course of events and by the ambiguity that I knew would inevitably have to remain.
STRONGLY RECOMMENDED both for readers who just like a good thriller combined with an excellent police procedural and also for those who continue to wonder what caused the midair explosion of TWA Flight 800.
On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airlines Flight 800 departed New York City's John F. Kennedy international Airport en route to Paris, France, carrying 212 passengers and 18 crew members. It departed JFK at about 8:16 p.m. eastern time and was climbing through 13,760 feet when, 14 minutes into the flight it exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 9 miles off Long Island. All 230 people onboard were killed. This is fact.
Nelson DeMille's novel "Night Fall" is based on factual evidence. The author explores the controversy surrounding the cause of the disaster which the US government still officially attributes to a spark in Flight 800's center fuel tank. The FBI interviewed 154 "credible" witnesses - including scientists, schoolteachers, Army personnel and business executives - who described seeing a missile heading through the sky just before TWA 800 exploded. They reported a "streak of light" hitting the plane just before it blew up." Their testimony was disregarded. Today, more than eight years after the event, questions are still being raised about the accuracy of the findings - about a possible cover-up. DeMille's research is impressive. He stresses that the novel draws on published accounts, plus interviews with investigators and eyewitnesses to the crash. He says he has "tried to represent all sides of this controversy," but adds that he has taken "dramatic liberties and literary licence when there is conflicting evidence." This is, after all, a work of fiction. It is up to the reader to determine the level of believability.
Bud Mitchell and Jill Winslow, an affluent couple in their thirties, are in the middle of an illicit love affair. They're set for a romantic evening at the beach. It's a rare occasion when the two can get away from their respective spouses for an entire night. They find a cozy spot below a dune overlooking the ocean at Cupsogue Beach County Park on Long Island, bringing with them wine, a blanket and a video camera. Planning to make passionate love on film, Bud and Jill are excited by the thought of watching themselves later on the VCR. Suddenly a terrible explosion lights up the sky. The sound of a tremendous explosion follows. The couple flees, taking the camera with them, as police cars speed toward the scene, sirens blaring. In the car, on the way back to their hotel, Jill discovers that the camera has captured the entire event. She and Bud are no longer the main feature. The date is July 17, 1996.
Five years later, July 17, 2001, the crash of Flight 800 has been officially attributed to a mechanical malfunction. Kate Mayfield and her husband, John Cory, are both members of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. Together they attend the fifth year memorial service for TWA Flight 800's victims' families and friends. Kate was involved in the investigation and the case still haunts her. She has never been satisfied with the resolution and convinces John, an ex-NYPD detective, to take an interest in re-opening the investigation - on his own. Since they have been strongly warned by the FBI to stay away, the rogue, anti-establishment ex-cop becomes interested. When Kate introduces her hubby to credible eye witnesses and gives him a tour of the reconstructed airplane, his interest peaks. John is a superb detective and soon learns about a possible piece of crucial evidence that was never brought to light. He is determined to discover if it still exists, and in his search begins to see signs of a monumental cover-up.
Mr. Demille is at his best here, as far as storytelling goes.The plot is riveting, the theory intriguing, the characters at once exciting, energetic and believable, and the ending left me stunned. Powerful!! Unfortunately, the writing is not his best. The humor is good, but it does fall flat more than occasionally. Since John Cory is the smart aleck, he comes off as obnoxious at times. I have seen DeMille use dark humor much more effectively. The plot, and the research that went into the writing, the suspense, more than make up for the pedestrian narrative. I remember clearly the evening of the crash and where I was when I heard the news. I felt terrible pain for the victims and their loved ones, and have always been interested in the reports and findings. It appears that the author has been very troubled by the tragedy. His concerns come across loud and clear. A must read!
Night Fall is the latest political/detective thriller by my favorite author, Nelson DeMille. This novel features Detective John Corey, formerly of the NYPD, again dealing with terrorists and a mystery to solve. I am not going to get into the story for fear of dropping a "spoiler." Suffice to say, the story deals with the crash of Flight 800 and what might have caused it.
The John Corey character was the protagonist in "Plum Island" which I thought was one of the best detective novels I ever read. He continued in "The Lion's Game" which was also excellent. I thought that "Night Fall" moved at a snappier pace than "The Lion's Game" and frankly it really kept me turning the pages. The only reason that I deprived "Night Fall" of that fifth star is that I thought that "Plum Island" was even better. But this is an excellent, superb novel, and comes highly recommended.
DeMille, like a number of contemporary authors (Tom Clancy comes to mind) sometimes has a tendency to write a longer novel than necessary to tell a story. I personally thought that his novels "Up Country" and "The Lion's Game" were examples of this. Now, for DeMille lovers (like me) this is no problem because we cannot get enough of DeMille's always-excellent writing, but it may put off newcomers. Both "Plum Island" and now "Night Fall" avoid this issue. These are well-written, fast-paced stories with believable characters, a solid plot, and a storyline that moves quickly and effectively. "Night Fall" will not disappoint, and it is good to see DeMille return to a sparer, leaner form of writing. This is not to say that the novel lacks depth. Not at all. One of DeMille's strengths is that he makes his characters become real, and this is certainly the case in "Night Fall." And "Night Fall" also succeeds because the clues are there for the reader to pick up, and the reader can appreciate the ingenuity with which the protagonist, John Corey, deals with the mystery at hand--what brought down Flight 800. And other issues along with it.
This is a fine DeMille novel that the discerning reader will read, savor, and re-read.
on December 3, 2004
John Corey former NYPD homicide detective is back and is now assigned to the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force five years after the explosion of TWA Flt 800 and before September 11, 2001. He's thrown into the cauldron of conflicting theories about the cause of Flt 800 and sets out to solve the mystery.
He single handedly confronts a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of the crash of Flt 800 but does not give short thrift to the government's case. In fact, both sides of the controversy are fairly presented.
This actually, despite some bogging down, is a pretty good read. As I mentioned, this is not a literary tour de force, but a worthwhile enjoyable escapist read.
The story comes to its climax on, you guessed it, September 11th! I won't say any more so as not to give away the story. The last sentence of the book opens a huge door to a new book based on Corey's discovery. I hope he writes it because he really piqued my curiosity.
If you enjoy the wise-cracking Corey he is at his irreverent best in this book. While this book is NOT among his best it is a worthy effort and an enjoyable read.
If you were to ask me to list my favorite authors, the name Nelson DeMille would surely be at the top of the list. Yet, in the past number of years I have only read two of his books, The Gold Coast which I still can remember laughing out loud while reading and Plum Island which introduced the irascible character of John Corey. I'm not sure if instinctively I save DeMille's other books or just needed to be in the mood but I recently picked up Night Fall and gobbled this book down in a matter of days. Never much of a mystery or suspense reader, except for a couple of authors and books, I did wonder as I closed this book why I waited so long to pick up another title by this exceptionally author in this genre. Or why I don't read more of these books in general. Night Fall, for me, was one of the best suspense filled books I've ever read and it literally kept me on the edge of my seat.
Five years after the fatal plane crash of Flight 800 over Morachies Beach in Long Island and after a few well placed hints by his wife, John Corey investigates what really caused the explosion of this plane killing all of its passengers as they headed to Paris. Was it a malfunction as the final report stated or was it a missile, possibly one of our own. What caused the famous streak which was seen by so many before the plane exploded plunging it and the passengers into the sea. But most of all as John Corey unearths more and more information he uncovers an illicit affair, a beach tryst and a missing tape from a camcorder which may show all of the events which once again might lead to some new conclusions. As John continues to investigate all of the angles, he finds himself facing brick walls and stumbling blocks galore not the least of which are higher ups in the government who warn Corey to stay away from snooping around. But by then Corey is knee deep in a grand cover up and he can't and won't let go of finding out the truth. As tensions mount both personally and professionally for Corey and his wife, an even grander tragedy is about to play our which will not only alter the world as we know it but certainly any future investigation of this event.
I thought that Night Fall with all of it twists and turns, revelations and fictional suppositions was a really engrossing read with a solid B+ rating. That was until the end. I never saw the last event coming and as it was a real zinger for me it and the final conclusion of this roller coaster ride, the book became an A rating in my opinion.
I highly recommend this book and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Now I have all of Nelson DeMille's books on my "to be read" table and plan on reading and savoring them one by one.
Two lovers are out on the sand of the south shore of Long Island, filming their unfaithful indiscretions with passion and lust. They see a light arc upward into the sky and then a huge explosion that interrupts their love-making.
This is a novel of TWA Flight 800 and how one investigator finds out what really happened to the Boeing 747 on that fateful summer night that took so many lives. He meets the lover and discovers the tape. With all the evidence he needs to prove it is a terrorist attack, he decides to reveal it to the world in downtown New York City.
"Night Fall" is a superb story of intrigue and drama in the finest tradition of a Frederick Forsythe novel where you are unsure where fiction leaves off and reality begins.
Begin the reality of enjoying this novel.
on December 6, 2004
The plot of NIGHT FALL revolves around the real life incident of the midair explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound. John Corey, a contract agent with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force attends the five-year memorial service for the victims of the tragedy. His wife and task force partner, Kate Mayfield worked on the initial investigation of the explosion, but was pulled off the case. Shortly thereafter, explosion was deemed an accident. Kate unsatisfied by the outcome and still haunted by the tragedy persuades John to reopen the investigation off the clock.
John Corey the protagonist from both THE LION'S GAME and PLUM ISLAND is back and he is as sardonic and sarcastic as ever. He and Kate make an interesting and strong team. After a slightly slow start with the description of the initial investigation, the plot really takes off and becomes a real page-turner. While I might not rate this Nelson Demille's best work, he is such a brilliant writer that it would take a lot to make his books less than a five-star rating in my opinion.
I couldn't put it down. It was one of the few books that I walked around with - even woke up in the middle of the night to read. It was great to be back with that smartass, John Corey - and it was good to see his softer side - so in love is he with Kate Mayfield. I think DeMille got their feelings and musing just right for two professionals who are trying to keep their eye on the ball and each other at the same time. DeMille tackled a difficult, serious subject - the crash of TWA 800 - one that many of us have wanted to read more about, think more about - and he gave us the reality of the investigation, as well as some intriguing and plausible alternatives. I was with him every step of the way, through the results of what must have been grueling research. His plot did everything a plot should do - grabbed me, pulled me, lured me. It's amazing how he makes the connection with what you know is coming - but you don't know how it will affect the outcome. DeMille delivers a great story, wrapped in his own, inimitably readable style. This was a book worth waiting for!
on March 22, 2005
I am a big fan of Nelson DeMille, but like many authors that I enjoy, I find that his earlier works are far superior. I hope he retires his Corey character for a little while. I like his wit, but I find him somewhat unbelievable especially in his dealings with his adversary Ted Nash. I enjoyed this much more than "Plum Island" , and about the same as the "Lion's Game". DeMille came up with a clever premise and a strong ending , but doesn't know where to go with the story so it sort of meanders through the paces. I was never enthralled, but never bored enough to put the book down. I miss the plot strengths that DeMille developed in such works as "The Gold Coast", "Cathedral', "Word of Honor", and "Charm School". I gave all those works 5 stars. Hope I can say that about his next outing.
on November 15, 2004
Ever since The Gold Coast I've been a Nelson DeMille addict. In this newest title his old protagonist, retired NY cop John Corey reappears and is dragged reluctantly back into a plausable conspiracy investigation as dangerous as walking barefoot through an acre of broken glass bottles. DeMille inflicts relentless former CIA and FBI operatives (his old enemies) on our aging (like me) "Mike Hammer" kind of hero, whose attitude (like mine) is more "I'm too old for this s**t" than ever. This book is fun because John Corey is fun, and smart, and cynical, a description that probably applies to most of DeMille's loyal readers. It's an easy, compelling read, and ends with a one-two knockout punch that made me gasp for air. Buy it. Read it. You'll gasp too. Then you'll recover and be glad that John Corey will be back again, and you'll hope it will be soon.