Living on Long Island for the first 39 years of my life, there are some events I clearly remember. One of those is the crash of TWA 800 which went down off of the south shore of Suffolk County in 1996. One thing I remember about it in particular is the company I had been working for had freight on that flight, which included glitter used in theatrical productions. The glitter was found all over the wreckage, which led to some interesting questions and perplexed investigators a bit. You know how glitter gets all over everything.
Unfortunately, Nelson DeMille does not mention all of that glitter in his fictionalized account of the investigation of TWA 800. However, he doesn’t discount the hundreds of eyewitnesses who report having seen a streak of light rising in the sky towards where the plane exploded in the moments before it exploded. From there, he extrapolates this novel.
John Corey, a regular among DeMille’s characters, returns as part of an anti-terrorism task force. He’s now married to Kate Mayfield, who is also on the task force. Kate cajoles John into attending a memorial for the fifth anniversary of the crash of TWA 800, which she investigated. From there, things take a darker turn. Kate takes John to the airplane hangar where the wreckage which was recovered has been stored. She says she doesn’t want him investigating, yet she brings him here and tells him all about the inconsistencies the task force found, including all of the eyewitnesses who said they saw that streak of light before the explosion. Some of those eyewitnesses were people who would know what a missile rising in the sky looked like.
Of course, then, John goes on to investigate the explosion on his own. Along the way he’s his typical abrasive, hostile, and evasive self. When he’s warned off of the investigation, he agrees with whoever he’s talking to and then does what he wants. This includes his wife, which, knowing that she knows how he is, why did she bring him into the investigation in the first place?
The answer is there’s a piece of evidence which could tie everything together that seems to be missing. Although numerous eyewitnesses talk about the streak of light, there’s no video of the crash to support this – or is there? Both the anti-terrorism task force and John turn up evidence that leads investigators to believe there were a couple on a blanket on the beach that night who may have inadvertently filmed the explosion. Unfortunately, to anyone’s knowledge, they have not come forward with the footage. The question is why.
Night Fall is written as a thriller about real-life events. Could events have happened the way DeMille describes? Yes. Could there have been a cover-up? The question that still lingers is why would there be a cover-up? That’s something DeMille can’t answer, and he crafts events so that the truth can never be learned. There’s suspense throughout the book of what will be revealed, but of course since it’s based on real-life it has to be somewhat ambiguous.
At 692 pages, it’s a long read. However, I found it gripped me and it didn’t feel like that long of a read. At times I felt like the character of John Corey was falling into the super-human category where he seems to go for days on end without sleep and still manages to be just as functional. That’s a sore point for me with a lot of suspenseful writing; characters who are able to exceed normal levels of physical and mental endurance. DeMille is guilty of that here with Corey. Corey also ruffles many feathers throughout the way. There’s people who seem to be helping him out, then either change their minds or are warned off, and Corey disregards any of their pleas. This includes his wife, who begins to regret involving him. Again, I ask, what did she think was going to happen? For a Federal Agent, she seems to be as flaky as he is at times.
I did enjoy Night Fall. Some variation of the ending was necessary because there is no way to explain the events which took place, particularly if there was a cover-up of evidence. I wasn’t crazy about the ending, though. Yes, it made sense in the context of the story and what it had to be, but it was a bit too contrived and convenient. Taken as a thriller based on real events, it works fine. If you’re looking for answers to questions about this incident, there’s nothing here that really makes any more sense out of it.
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