DeMille's "Night Fall" a Thought-Provoking Look at TWA Tragedy

posted Sep 28, 2013, 4:06 PM by Martin Roy Hill   [ updated Aug 4, 2015, 4:15 PM ]
As of this writing, it has been 17 years since TWA Flight 800 exploded in mid-air and fell into the ocean off the coast of New York, killing all 230 passengers and crew aboard. A large-scale government investigation determined a stray spark in an empty mid-section fuel tank ignited fumes, resulting in a blast that tore the airliner in two. Despite that conclusion and the passage of years, the fate of the TWA 747-100 jumbo jet is still debated. Just this past July, a documentary film was released alleging the government’s conclusion was a conspiracy to cover-up the fact the jet was brought down by a missile fired by terrorists.

I’ve never been part of the TWA 800 conspiracy crowd, but after reading Night Fall, author Nelson DeMille’s fictional though well-researched account of the disaster, I can’t help developing my own doubts about the government’s findings. 

It’s 2001, five years after the airliner’s lost. DeMille’s wise-cracking New York cop turned FBI anti-terrorist contract agent, John Corey, tries to reopen the investigation into the tragedy at the urging of his FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield, who worked on the crash investigation. Like many of those who worked on the case, Kate was never satisfied with the government’s conclusion. There were, after all, more than 200 eye witnesses who swore they saw a missile streak toward the aircraft just before it exploded. 

Corey pursues a rumor that an adulterous couple videotaping their beach side love-making may have captured moment of the explosion. FBI agents have been warned to not pursue any more leads in the cause of the disaster, but Corey is not known for following orders. The bureaucratic hornet’s nest stirred up by his quest raises the specter of a massive, criminal cover-up. As he draws closer to finding the couple who made the videotape, it becomes obvious Corey has few people he can trust in federal law enforcement, so he turns to his NYPD buddies for help. Night Fall builds to a taut and ultimately heart-wrenching conclusion.

In writing Night Fall, DeMille had to walk an emotional tight rope. A lesser writer might have sensationalized this story. Instead, DeMille developed a plot line that stayed as close to the actual facts as possible, while still developing a story rich in tension, humor, and heartbreak. You will be thinking about this novel long after you finish reading it.
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