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Falling by TJ Newman

Edited extract from Chapter 2

Reaching up, Bill flicked the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign off. The plane had leveled off and now floated eastward, a mass of humanity hanging in limbo.


Coastal four-one-six, contact LA center one-two-niner-point-five-zero,” the squawk of the air traffic controller rang throughout the cockpit.


Coastal four-one-six,” Bill identified, “LA on one-two-niner-point-five-oh. Good day.”


Ben reached to his left and pushed a knob on the lower console control panel. Turning it counterclockwise, yellow digital numbers descended toward the new frequency. The controller who would answer the other end of the line would guide them through his jurisdiction before handing the plane off to the next sector’s en route controller. Like that, all the way across the country, the plane’s communication to ground would be passed off like a baton.


Bill waited until Ben stopped at 129.50 and pressed the transfer button. “Good afternoon, Los Angeles center,” he said into the mic, studying the panel indicating their altitude, direction, and speed. “Coastal four-one-six checking in at flight level three-five-zero.”


Good afternoon, Costal. Maintain three-five-zero,” responded the controller. Bill holstered the mic and punched a button on the console in front of him. A green light lit up above the label “AP1,” confirming the autopilot had been engaged. Releasing the shoulder straps of his five-point harness and reclining his seat, Bill settled in for the cruise.

 

“Sir?” Jo said. “Sir?”

 

The man stared at the seatback TV in front of him. Jo wiggled her fingers in front of the screen, his eyes darting up as he hastily removed his headphones and accepted the glass of wine she held out.


“Sorry,” he apologized, returning to the screen.

 

“Big game?” she asked, passing a seltzer no ice off her tray to the college-aged girl in the first-class seat next to him.

 

“You kiddin’?” he said, with a thick New York accent. “Game seven of the World Series? Yeah, it’s a big game.”

 

“I’m assuming you’re rooting for the Yankees,” Jo said.

 

“Since the day I was born,” he replied, putting his headphones back on to hear the pre-game coverage. Next to him, the girl sent a text to her boyfriend. We land at 10:30. Can you pick me up? She watched his three dots at work, smiling when his text came through.


Four rows back in the main cabin, a man turned the page in his book. The beam of the overhead light irritated the guy in the middle seat next to him who was trying to sleep. Across the aisle, a woman pressed “Send” on her laptop, the email arriving seconds later in her boss’s inbox back in LA. The guy by the window squirmed in his seat, wondering how long he could wait before he’d have to ask the row to get up so he could use the bathroom. Behind him, neck arched, mouth agape, a loud snore came from the “passenger of size” who had asked the flight attendants for a seat belt extender during boarding. A toddler ambled down the aisle past them all. His mother held onto his raised hands, steadying the child in the plane’s gentle rock.

 

On the other side of the cockpit door, the pilots spoke with air traffic control, adjusting the plane’s altitude or speed when directed. They checked weather reports for updates and surveyed the open expanse in front of them, endless stretches of deserts and snow-covered mountaintops, a rolling procession of the dramatic landscapes of the western United States. But with the plane steadily cruising, they mostly passed the time just like their passengers. Ben read a book on his tablet and occasionally sent a text. Bill chewed a granola bar, working on the computer-based portion of the biannual recurrent training he had coming up in a few weeks.

 

Bill’s laptop pinged with an incoming email. It was from Carrie—but it had no subject or text, only a picture attachment. That’s odd, he thought as he clicked on the attachment. It wasn’t unusual for her to send pictures of the kids or of an activity that he was missing at home. But after the way they’d left things, the gesture felt out of place.

 

Studying the picture, Bill blinked a few times, even more confused. He recognized the couch and the television behind it. He was familiar with the books and the picture frames. He saw the beer bottle where he had left it the night before after he and Scott finished watching the Dodgers lose game six, and he could envision the tall oak tree in the backyard that left its shadowy outline on the floor of his sunlit family room.

 

These things made sense to him.

 

The two figures that stood in the middle of the room did not.

 

Barefoot, bare-legged, their arms outstretched in the shape of a cross; timid hands opened toward the heavens in a silent plea of helplessness. He knew their faces, but he could not see them beneath the black hoods that covered their heads. He did not need to glimpse his wife’s pink toenail polish to know one figure was her, and he did not need confirmation that the other’s skinny legs were those of his son.


Bill leaned forward, trying to make sense of what Carrie was wearing. Strapped across her whole torso was some strange sort of vest. Pockets covered it front to back, brightly colored wires protruding from small bricks that lay inside. He’d seen such vests on the news in grainy video footage of suicide bombers making their final martyrdom statements. But in the moment, his mind couldn’t process the sight of something so perverse strapped across his wife’s body.

 

His mouth went dry. Steadying himself with a hand on the tray table, his head spun. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, hoping that when he opened them, the picture would be gone. Or that he would wake up and find this was all a dream. Somehow, maybe, he could start over. Or just—disappear.

 

Opening his eyes, he thought he might be sick.

 

The picture of his wife, wearing an explosive suicide vest, standing next to their son in their own living room, was still there. Another email hit the inbox. 

 

Put on your headphones.


With that, an incoming FaceTime call popped up on the screen.

Falling

the most thrilling blockbuster read of the summer

‘Amazing . . . Intense suspense, shocks and scares plus chilling insider authenticity make this one very special’ LEE CHILD
'FALLING is the best kind of thriller (for me as a reader anyway). Characters you care deeply about. Nonstop, totally authentic suspense'
JAMES PATTERSON

You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

***Praise for Falling***


‘Think Speed on a passenger jet - with the cockpit dials turned up to supersonic’ Ian Rankin

‘Stunning and relentless. This is Jaws at 35,000 feet’ Don Winslow

‘The best thriller I’ve read in years. Buckle up’ Adrian McKinty

‘Amazing . . . Intense suspense, shocks and scares plus chilling insider authenticity make this one very special’ Lee Child

'FALLING is the best kind of thriller (for me as a reader anyway). Characters you care deeply about. Nonstop, totally authentic suspense' James Patterson

‘A jet-propelled thriller that will have you in its grip from first page to last. A truly astonishing debut and an incredible work of pure suspense’ Steve Cavanagh

'T.J. Newman has taken a brilliant idea, a decade of real life experience and crafted the perfect summer thriller. Relentlessly paced and unforgettable' Janet Evanovich
 
'FALLING redefines the phrase roller coaster ride. It redefines the term edge-of-your-seat thriller.  Falling is that rarest of things, a book that is even better than everyone says it is. T.J. Newman has delivered a stunning debut' Dervla McTiernan

‘Heart pounding. Heart-wringing. Heart STOPPING! A great book! One of those where you're afraid to turn the next page, but you can't stop’ Diana Gabaldon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

'...terrifying, heart-pounding and absolutely terrific ' Jill Mansell

'Newman keeps up an extreme pace from the first page—a near-impossible task, considering that the hero is locked in a cockpit, unable to take action himself. This novel is like the films Die Hard and Speed on steroids, creating one of the year’s best thrillers' Library Journal

'Brilliant . . . Incredibly suspenseful . . . With abundantly human characters, natural dialogue, and a plot that unleashes one surprise after another, this could be the novel that everyone is talking about this summer' Booklist 

'Newman’s [flight attendant] background means Falling brings a freshness and depth to the genre' The Guardian

'A superlative debut . . . This tense, convincing thriller marks the arrival of an assured new talent' Publishers Weekly (starred review)

'Fasten your seatbelt for a real thrill ride' Best

' ...full of the kind of authentic detail that comes from personal experience' Literary Review

‘Get set for a high altitude adrenaline rush' Candis

‘Gripping from the first sentence, this thriller is like no other’ OK! Magazine

'TJ Newman's gripping debut novel' Daily Express

'A remarkable debut' The Sunday Times

'This is a race-to-the-finish-line sort of read' Observer

'Gripping from the first sentence, this thriller is like no other' S Magazine

'... a tense and claustrophobic read, the fast-paced action zipping along at an astonishing rate' Refinery29