Airframe Book Cover Airframe
Michael Crichton
Ballantine Books (originally Alfred A. Knopf)
September 28, 1997 (originally November 27, 1996)

At a moment when the issue of safety and death in the skies is paramount in the public mind, a lethal midair disaster aboard a commercial twin-jet airliner flying from Hong Kong to Denver triggers a pressured and frantic investigation in which the greatest casualty may be the truth.


Airframe is one of Crichton’s better books, but for different reasons than most of this other work. Without spoiling it, the book does not follow the same format as many of his other books. On one hand, that wound up being a little off-putting. On the other hand, it made the read a bit more exciting. It was like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film and there is no twist, which for people familiar with the style is more of a twist than any twist that could have been written into the story.

That is not to say Airframe does not have any parallels with other Crichton novels. Like in his other works, Crichton takes a scientific topic and builds a story around it. In this case, commercial airplanes are the subject. Going in knowing a bit about aircraft helps but as per usual Crichton works explanations into the story. Also, like his other works, something goes wrong with the science and people get hurt. Some characters are trying to fix the disaster while others try to twist it for their own purposes. The sense of mystery behind these events leads to a story best described as a thriller.

On the whole, Airframe is one of Crichton’s best novels. The thing that sets it apart is a greater sense of realism. For the most part, his books take a scientific topic and stretch it just enough so that it is still believable. In Airframe, the events still have a scientific basis, but this is something that could really happen. That added sense of realism makes the danger hit closer to home, as well as the consequences following the accident. Just that sense of “this could really happen, this could happen to me” makes the story particularly terrifying.

Characterization is not exactly Crichton’s strong suit. The central character here is well developed while the rest are as 2D as B-movie characters. There is also a sense that Crichton may have had some biases that bled through to Airframe. Largely the sense that he dislikes lawyers and hates TV people. Now maybe that was just for the sake of this particular story, but it came off more intense than that. In a thrilling mystery like Airframe, it is hard to review it too deeply without spoiling anything. On the whole, it would probably rank as my favorite Crichton book (thus far) if I did not have such a positive bias towards Jurassic Park. If you care for Crichton or thrillers in general, Airframe is definitely worth the read.

January 6, 2019

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