In this debut thriller based upon a real-life 1996 plane crash, a young man must uphold his family’s honor while also facing ethical challenges posed by terrorists and the U.S. government.
John Worthington “J.W.” Mayfair used to fly bombing missions during the Vietnam War, and now he’s the vice president of a software company. As he leaves New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for a business meeting in Paris, he decides to call Liam, his estranged son, from the plane. While he leaves his message of reconciliation, however, he sees a surface-to-air missile launch from a nearby oil tanker, and his plane, TWA Flight 800, is blown from the sky. Authorities eventually rule that the tragedy was simply the result of a short circuit. Two years later, Liam, who never got J.W.’s message, still has nightmares about his father’s death, and his own life seems adrift and aimless. His mother, however, wants him to become involved in her planned lawsuit against TWA for negligence. Then Liam finally hears the answering machine message he missed so long ago, and he realizes that it could prove that terrorists attacked the plane. If he reveals the message to others, however, his mother’s potential financial windfall could vanish. Liam’s situation worsens when shady figures start gunning for him and anyone else capable of challenging the “short circuit” theory. Debut author Picciano delivers a meticulously crafted thriller packed with details that re-create the Flight 800 tragedy all too well: “The sea was covered with floating corpses…and the bizarre coating of gold glitter which had been blown out of boxes and now covered the hair and clothing and faces of the dead.” However, the story’s main strength is the author’s finely tuned characterization. For example, Liam, unlike his overachieving brothers, is described as being “like the boy who suddenly realizes that the only way he can see the hidden tiger in the 3-D image is...by simply relaxing and allowing it to reveal itself.” Sometimes the author’s colorful imagery fails, however, such as when Flight 800 is callously compared to a “Chinese firecracker.” Such a description makes the gravitas that Flight 800 brings to the narrative feel unearned. The novel could have entertained readers just as well by using a fictional tragedy. A page-turning thriller debut but one that overreaches by pulling straight from the headlines.