Sunday, May 31, 2009

Final Approach (Nance, John J)

Rating: 4.5
Year: 1990
Genre: Techno mystery
Read again? In another few years.

This book's got more twists than a TSA agent's knickers. It's been maybe 4 years since I last read it. I don't think I can manage another Lackey book; the flesh and the spirit are unwilling and weak. So what's more fun than trudging through the next million-page "Valdemar" novel?

A plane crash, naturally.

Dr. Mike Weiss loses his wife and two kids in a terrible crash at Kansas City International--an Airbus 320 (Flight 255) coming in on final approach collides with a Boeing 737 (Flight 170) waiting for clearance to take off. A few dozen passengers and flight attendants survive, along with Flight 255's pilot and Flight 170's pilot and copilot.

Senator Kell Martinson (R-Kansas) is in his car at the airport (parked illegally in a restricted area), waiting for Flight 255 to pick up his mistress. He bails out of there when everything goes up in flames.

An Air Force C-5A carrying a highly secret "Star Wars" device (with a highly-powerful radar) is at the same airport. No one's supposed to know it's there, but there's a witness.

NTSB investigator Joe Wallingford is detailed to the scene. He and his "Go Team" do their bit and come up with some serious questions:
Was Flight 255 brought down by wind shear from the thunderstorm? If so, why didn't Air Traffic Control warn of such weather conditions?
Was it pilot error?
Was it interference from a highly powerful radar?
Who was driving the illegally-parked mystery car that suddenly bailed out of the restricted area?

As if this wasn't enough, a bunch of right-wing loonies from Louisiana are screaming that their congressman, Larry Wilkins (R-Louisiana) was assassinated by government operatives: Wilkins was on flight 255 and he knew about the super-secret "Star Wars" thingie and its highly-powerful radar.

Oh, there's more. There's the NTSB Board chief who's got it in for Wallingford, with political connections and ambitions that lead him to pressure Wallingford to lay off on some parts of the investigation.

There's the FAA chief with pals in the airline industry who is trying to protect those pals.

There are irregularities in the medical history of Flight 255's pilot, and questions about his professionalism.

There's Wallingsford's "beautiful and brilliant" superior [it's right there on the back cover], who wants to inspect him personally. Yes, there's a romance angle to the story. But it doesn't get icky.

There's the guy who was driving that super-secret piece of "Star Wars" technology (with its highly-powerful radar) into the Air Force plane.

Can our guy bring all these threads together in 409 pages? Yes! Not only that, he gets the "beautiful and brilliant" girl, cures cancer, and defends Earth from a Martian Zombie attac--er wait. *goes back and re-reads the ending* Actually, the girl gets him. She was his boss, after all.

Nance keeps the story moving nicely. Maybe a few minor issues with dialog (feels a bit formal even in casual scenes), but I'm not going to quibble over that because things keep moving. It's hard at times to remember who all these people are--and then there's the FBI friend, the pilot's wife and son, the corporate guys at the airline, the corporate guys at Airbus, the press, and the Air Force guys. No one wants the finger pointed at them, no one will take responsibility for the crash. All the finger-pointing is just like in real life.

I think the book could have been shorter, but I'm only going to crash half a point.

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