Worried about flying? This thriller will give you that sinking feeling

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T.J. Newman
Simon & Schuster, $32.99

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I fly I look at the people around me and wonder if we are going to die together. I’m also scared of deep water and find tunnels terrifying. This would suggest that a book about a plane ditching and then sinking to the bottom of the ocean as it slowly fills up with water might be too much to bear. Indeed, I think I might have stopped breathing while reading the first 40 pages of T.J. Newman’s latest rollercoaster thriller, Drowning. But I loved it nonetheless.

The former flight attendant has turned her experience in the air to good use in her fiction.Credit:

Drowning follows Falling, Newman’s debut novel that after 41 rejections catapulted onto The New York Times bestseller list at No. 2 and was soon optioned as a film. A former flight attendant, Newman has found her niche in exploiting the what-ifs in the safety manual. What if a pilot is told to crash his plane or watch his family being blown up (Falling)? What if a ditched plane sinks to the bottom of the ocean with 12 people still on board (Drowning)?

While the scenario may be grim, Newman’s focus is firmly on her cast of characters, who are swiftly and effectively animated. Will Kent is an engineer, flying from Honolulu to San Francisco with his eight-year-old daughter, Shannon, when in the book’s first sentence the engine explodes. Flight attendant Molly Hernandez is trying to keep things calm in the cabin as all hell breaks loose, and we learn why unsecured electronics are a flight risk. The laptop wedged in the roof of the plane “like an axe without a handle” is why.


As the passengers swarm onto the life rafts to escape the crippled plane, there’s another explosion and the sea ignites. Will knows the only option is to close the doors, leaving the remaining 12 trapped on board as the plane sinks slowly onto a reef. Their only hope is an elaborate underwater sea rescue. It’s now an elemental race between the rising water level in the cabin, the diminishing air supply, and the fact that the plane is teetering on a subterranean brink and about to slide further into the abyss. Cue the cavalry.

Newman does resourceful women and sensitive men well. The stalwart Will’s soon-to-be ex-wife, the formidable Chris, just happens to be an expert in the field of industrial diving, and she has an idea about how to go about the rescue. First, she has to convince the District 14 Commander of the Coastguards, Jackie “Fitz” Fitzgerald, that there is no other option, and that’s not going to be easy. While a power battle ensues on the surface, we observe how people facing death comport themselves below as the countdown ensues. Cocktail anyone?

Along the way, we discover just how and why Will and Chris have drifted apart. This is the emotional hook that ratchets up the emotional stakes and makes us care. Read Drowning safely in bed with your life vest and a box of tissues to hand.

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