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Monday, July 5, 2010

Crashers, by Dana Haynes (hardcover, $24.99)

Dana Haynes has set his thriller in Oregon. It's CSI meets the A-Team, or at least McGyver. What if a plane with state-of-the-art technology to help it stay afloat doesn't – stay afloat, that is? What if it crashes soon after take-off from the Portland International Airport? This is the story that gives us a blow-by-blow look at what "crashers," or members of the National Transportation and Safety Board investigative team, do to determine what causes a crash. Even though that would make a fascinating book all by itself, of course we need more. Let's throw in a terrorist or two, and that will give us Crashers, a big page-turner of a book.

The NTSB team has the usual blend of disparate and talented folk who joke and irritate each other in the best TV-show-ensemble fashion. Tommy Tomzak is a pathologist, not a pilot, who fortuitously is attending a conference in Portland and has prior ties with the NTSB, and he is picked to head the investigation. We mostly follow in his footsteps, but his story alternates with that of skulking Irish terrorists who are in the United States and planning some atrocity. (If this book is ever made into a movie, the forensic plane-ologist, FBI, and terrorist characters will provide parts a-plenty.)

To satisfy the most demanding and rabid CSI fan, there are details and detailed procedures galore. No expense is spared. The shattered plane must be reconstructed. A facsimile plane is brought in to test various theories. An entire motel and empty hangar are requisitioned for the cast of engineers, carpenters, black box specialists, punky teenage girl computer genius, nerdy electronics expert, grouchy should-have-been-boss, and general dogsbodies that are assembled to assist and be part of the A-Team.

This is a very visual book, sometimes grimly so. Haynes hardly spares us when describing the crash site. The main characters have back stories, but only sketchily so. The reader knows enough to categorize each player and understand the team dynamics.

Let me say it again: It's a page-turner.

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