Globe South Book Buzz

Novel connects with headlines

By Nancy Harris
April 14, 2011

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I have always enjoyed the writing of Michael Crichton. I also have felt a personal connection to him, because we both grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., and attended the same schools. In fact, we both were editors for the same high school newspaper, The Hilltop Beacon, covering sports and news, though we graduated 13 years apart.

Thus I was delighted when Eric Miller, a public relations specialist for a health care company in Boston, told me that Crichton has always been one of his favorite novelists, and that just recently he read “Airframe,’’ published in 2001.

“Michael Crichton always writes intelligent thrillers that always seem to tap into issues that concern society,’’ he said, “whether it is cloning, sexual harassment, the role of the media, or as in ‘Airframe,’ the issue of flight safety and failures in government regulation.’’

Miller said that though “Airframe’’ is a decade old, airline safety is in the news after a Southwest Airlines plane had a 5-foot hole ripped in its fuselage.

“Airframe’’ begins with a frightening midair disaster aboard a commercial jetliner flying from Hong Kong to Denver. The cabin’s interior is destroyed and the result is three dead passengers, 52 injured, and a whole lot of unexplained questions about what caused the deadly incident.

Experts are brought in by Norton Aircraft, the plane’s builder, to pinpoint the cause. Enter the heroine, young Casey Singleton, an aviation expert and public relations liaison for the company.

Casey is a determined investigator who must answer whether it was pilot error, aircraft maintenance, or Norton construction — or a combination that caused the deaths. Moreover, she has to find the solution within seven days, as a major purchase of Norton planes by China will be lost if the problem turns out to be the manufacturer’s design or construction.

Management has high expectations that Casey, as head of the incident review team, will quickly find the “right’’ answer. But she encounters an unhelpful, tight-lipped crew; angry union workers; and constant scrutiny from reporters who seem more concerned with the sensationalism of how something looks and sounds on air than communicating the truth to the public.

“What amazes me most about ‘Airframe,’ ’’ said Miller, “is the breadth and depth of Crichton’s research into airplane design, construction, and maintenance.

“Even though Crichton has a medical degree, in ‘Airframe’ he goes into amazing detail of the aviation industry.’’

I agree that this is a very readable book and that the scientific material and technical material is digestible for even the casual reader.

Nancy Harris can be reached at

“Airframe’’ By Michael Crichton