Airframe by Michael Crichton

title AIRFRAME is blurred on globe crisscrossed with flight lines Michael Crichton’s Airframe opens with a couple and their infant daughter flying back to America from on a charter flight. Nearing Los Angeles, the plane goes into convulsions.

When the shaking stops, the pilot radios for 40 ambulances to stand by. Two people are already dead.

Norton Aircraft, which built the plane, is in negotiations to sell $8 billion worth of aircraft to China. Bad publicity could kill the deal.

Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance representative on Norton’s Incident Review Team, is promoted to a VP position and assigned to manage the investigation, which normally would take a year or more. Casey is given one week to do the it. By the time she gets the assignment, the charter’s crew have already flown out.

Internal politics make Casey’s situation even more complicated. Union workers are fighting mad over  secret plans to move the company’s most profitable work off-shore. In addition, Casey has been saddled with an assistant who is related to Norton’s owners, has no relevant experience, and thinks he knows everything.

Like Crichton’s earlier bestsellers Disclosure and The Lost World, Airframe is can’t-put-down reading packed with information that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot.

Airframe by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1996. 351 p.
1996 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Night Over Water

aircraft at night over oceanNight Over Water centers around a largely forgotten piece of 20th century aviation history: the luxury aircraft the Flying Clipper, which could land and take off from the ocean.

In Ken Follett’s novel, a few days after Britain declares war on German in 1939, the Clipper takes off on a 30-hour flight to New York. Some of the passengers are trying to avoid the war, others are trying to escape their pasts.

Weather conditions had to be just right for the Clipper. It couldn’t take off or land unless the waves were less than three feet high. Unless stars were visible, the aircraft had no way to navigate and could run out of fuel. Conserving fuel often meant going through storms rather than around them.

The spark for the drama is the presence on the plane of a mobster being returned to America for trial. His gang have kidnapped the pregnant wife of the Clipper’s engineer in order to force her husband to have the plane land in the ocean off Newfoundland where they can rescue him.

Follett’s characters are types familiar to novel readers. It’s the setting that produces the drama. Few writers can milk the drama from an historical setting to entertain and inform as Follett can.

Night Over Water by Ken Follett
William Morrow. ©1991. 400 p.
1991 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Kingdom of Slender Swords Supersizes Suspense

cover of The Kingdom of Slender Swords

In a classic romance opening, Barbara Fairfax gets her first glimpse of Japan from the deck of an ocean liner. Japan is the land where here parents met, her father died, and where she hopes to escape from highly eligible suitor whom she doesn’t love.

As a house guest of the American ambassador’s daughter, Barbara has a front row seat to history in the making. She, however, is more interested in embassy staffer Duke Daunt than in political jockeying between superpowers.

Barbara Fairfax
Barbara Fairfax

Hallie Erminie Rives maintains a classic romance storyline for the remainder of The Kingdom of Slender Swords, but she embeds it within a thriller. Rives rounds out the novel with a bit of history, a chunk of local culture, and a sprinkle of religion.

Sounds like a recipe for literary hash, doesn’t it?

But Rives is no ordinary writer.

Her plotting is superb, her characters believable, her descriptions breathtaking.

Her predictions aren’t bad for 1910 either.

Rives anticipates Japan “will make some other nations get a move on” within the next half century. The novel’s bad guy, “the expert,” says it’s easier to dominate the the world by manipulating international financial markets than with weapons, though he has invented the ultimate weapon by harnessing atomic energy.

If that’s an ordinary romance novel, I’ll eat my Ramen Noodles.

The Kingdom of Slender Swords
by Hallie Erminie Rives 
Illus. A. B. Wenzell
1910 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #42427

This review has been edited to correct the pronouns referring to the author from he/him to she/her.  Hallie Erminie Rives was also Mrs. Post Wheeler, wife of an American diplomat whose foreign service took the couple to posts in Europe, Asia and South America.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni