First of all, to avoid confusion, this book was released in the UK with the original title of Falling, but for paperback release it’s been changed to After We Fall, which is also the US title.
The debut novel by ex-police and military psychologist Emma Kavanagh, it opens dramatically with a plane crash, then goes on to examine the before and after of the event’s effects on a number of people who are involved in some way. Also, there’s another storyline involving the murder of Libby Hanover, Police Community Support Officer and aspiring police officer, whose father is a retired policeman.
The main character is Cecilia Williams, an air stewardess who manages to shepherd “the lucky thirteen” survivors from the plane’s tail, which cracks away from the main body of the plane on impact with the ground. Despite her heroic behaviour, Cecilia is very confused and doesn’t know how to feel, given that that very morning she’d walked out on her husband Tom (a policeman who is part of the investigation into Libby Hanover’s death) and Ben, her two-year-old son, with whom she’s always struggled to bond. Yet the survivors, particularly one old woman, Maisie, see a wonderful, kind girl.
We also get to know the bereaved family of the pilot, Oliver Blake, who, despite his incessant womanising, has remained married to the long-suffering Adele, who tends to turn a blind eye to his countless indiscretions. They have two children – 23-year-old Freya, who’s no longer prepared to fall for the “perfect family” nonsense that’s peddled in their household, and determines to uncover the truth about her family, whatever the cost; and 17-year-old Richard, who Freya still attempts to protect, despite his age, and conceal from him her parents’ marital issues.
The other family who feature in the storyline are the Hanovers – Jim, particularly, plus Esther and son Ethan, who’ve lost their adored daughter and sister Libby to a seemingly motiveless murderer. This event causes Jim to re-evaluate his police career, and how much closure he really did bring to families when he solved a crime, particularly a murder, contrary to what he thought when on the job. He realises how helpless he is now, at his age and as a retired officer.
Cecilia, the main character, is initially difficult to like – her actions toward Tom and Ben seem incomprehensible, particularly when compared to her heroism at the scene of the crash, until we learn more about her past. I was, though, somewhat surprised newspaper reporters weren’t featuring her as some sort of “angel”, particularly given her good looks. The only interest newspaper reporters appear to be taking is in the confusion regarding the cause of the crash, which has left a lot of questions to be answered. To be honest, though, I rather liked Cecilia – there’s something more interesting, and honest, about a flawed character. Indeed, all of the characters in the book came across as realistic – doubtless a nod to Kavanagh’s background in psychology. I also found the dialogue rang true; in fact, it was excellent. I’ve said this several times this year, but in this case it really is hard to believe this is a debut novel, so assured is the plotting and characterisation. I flew through it in a couple of sittings, desperate to find out how things resolved themself – which, incidentally, they did perfectly, with not a loose end, to my eyes anyway. And for many of the characters, without giving too much away, there was no fairy tale ending – which is much more like life, than many novels’ conclusions.
I’ll certainly be starting Hidden soon, the next novel from Kavanagh, which was released in April. They’re both standalone novels (for those who worry about reading series in order!) If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers that also provide an intriguing puzzle, I’d heartily recommend Fallen / After We Fall. It would make perfect holiday reading – indeed, it would make a great read anytime!
As part of this blog tour, Emma has kindly agreed to explain why she chose to write, when she had her own psychological consultancy business, working with police and military personnel – which sounds like a fascinating job in itself!
At this point in my life, this question has come to resemble another question – why breathe? Because I have to. Now that this is my life and my job, the words come, whether I want them to or not. Stories seem to fly through the air, landing unbidden in my head, and, once they do that, the characters demand to be written.
However. It wasn’t always like this. Writing and I took a break from one another for a number of years. I lost my confidence. I saw other hobbies. We grew apart. What can I say?
Occasionally an idea would come and I would bat it away, inconvenient as a gnat at a mid-summer picnic.
And then one day, I didn’t.
I still remember that day. I was on a shooting range watching firearms officers being put through their paces. A story appeared in my head, coming from nowhere, and I went to bat it away, telling myself that I needed to concentrate – I was designing another training course and needed to pay attention to the cognitive processes encountered by the officers. But the idea refused to leave. It hung around as the live rounds were fired, as the bullet holes were located, as we trooped back to the armory. By the time I left that day, I had a main character and a story arc.
I also had a terrifyingly blank page and writing muscles that hadn’t been used in years.
I sat for a long time with a pen, some paper.
I stared and my stomach flipped. I couldn’t do this. It had been such a long time and look how blank that page was. And I was busy. I was running my own consultancy business, I was travelling more than I was home. When the hell would I have time to do this?
I put the pen down.
Then I picked it up again and began to write.
And it was like breathing after a long time underwater. What I wrote wasn’t good. In retrospect it was bad. Really bad. But the relief of writing again, of allowing the words to flow into me and out of me onto the page was simply exquisite. And I discovered that I could find within myself enough words to make up some kind of book, even a bad one.
Why write? Because now that I have begun again, I can’t not. Writing is who I am. Everything I see becomes instantly translated into words, molded and manipulated in my head so that the events I see come to form a story. I write because I have to.
Emma Kavanagh is a former police and military psychologist, and author of After We Fall: A Novel
(Sourcebooks). Twitter: @EmmaLK
Have you read Fallen / After We Fall? If so, what did you think? Or does it appeal to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts, as always!