I was a bit reluctant to read this book by Stephen Greenleaf. I’ve been reading my way through his entire Marsh Tanner series (excellent) and this is a stand-alone. (There is an oblique mention of Tanner on page 295 that was fun.) Often that means a letdown for the reader used to a particular set of characters. Not so in this case. I was hooked from the beginning.
The plot revolves around the crash of Surfair 617, a relatively new aircraft that collided with a small private plane. (Shades of an actual crash near Los Angeles between an Aeromexico DC-9 and a Piper Cherokee just a few years before this was written, and if the book has any flaws it’s perhaps the somewhat preachy concerns over flight safety pronounced by Alex Hawthorne.)
The cast of characters includes Alex’s partner, Martha, who keeps him on schedule, organized and satisfied (if you know what I mean.) Keith Tollison, another lawyer, is having an affair with Laura Donahue, husband of Jack, who is terribly injured in the crash. (He was sitting next Carol with whom he was having an affair who happened to be the Brenda’s sister.) He may be permanently paralyzed and neurologically impaired.. Tollison is in an on-again, off-again relationship with Brenda. Brenda has a mentally handicapped son who is devastated by his aunt’s death. All of these people come together in a nicely done courtroom drama. Yes, it’s a bit of a soap, but well done.
Greenleaf was trained as a lawyer so the legal aspects appear quite authentic. Something I found less so, was the conversation between the Air Traffic Controllers and the doomed plane before the crash. I’m a train and plane junkie so naturally I listen to ATC (you can stream it over the internet) for fun. (I often chose to fly United because they broadcast cockpit/ATC communications over channel 9.) ** The book’s rendering of those transmissions did not ring true. No matter.
**Sometimes the communications can be funny, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acU2LnvEJSs or scary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV6inj9KYcA
If you listen regularly you get a real appreciation for the work of pilots and Air Traffic Controllers. Lots of recordings at http://www.liveatc.net/, which you can also get as an iTunes app - it’s worth the $2.99
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