Today on Okie Dreams Book Reviews, we have a guest post by Emma Kavanagh, a former police psychologist and the author of the debut psychological thriller, After We Fall. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have a terrific novel excerpt, a book review and rating, and details on where to find After We Fall.
After We Fall
A plane falls out of the sky.
A woman is murdered.
Four people all have something to hide…
For fans of Tana French and Alice LaPlante comes After We Fall, a debut psychological thriller by former police psychologist Emma Kavanagh that explores four lives shattered in the tense aftermath of a plane crash.
Blood stains the carpet of an empty house. A front door slams behind a mother with a suitcase full of secrets. Someone screams. A plane falls out of the sky.
Cecilia made the hardest decision of her life moments before she stepped onto the plane that would bring her world crashing down. Her marriage was failing before even getting off the ground, and her desperate need to start over has driven her to abandon her family. Now, as her plane plummets toward the ground, she wishes she had given her son one last kiss good-bye. As tragedy meets mystery, Cecilia and three others, each struggling with their own secrets, become connected on one fateful night when lives are lost in the sky and on the ground.
More about After We Fall…
Shortly after takeoff, flight 2940 plummets to the snow-covered ground, breaking into two parts, the only survivors a handful of passengers and a flight attendant.
Cecilia has packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy and sees no way out.
Tom has woken up to discover that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.
Jim is a retired police offer and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared, and he knows something is wrong.
Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.
Four people, who have never met but are indelibly linked by these disasters, will be forced to reveal the closely guarded secrets that unlock the answers to their questions. But once the truth is exposed, it may cause even more destruction.
Told from various points of view, chapter by chapter, readers follow the investigation into the doomed plane alongside the investigation of a murder. Kavanagh deftly weaves together the stories of those who lost someone or something of themselves in one tragic incident, exploring how swiftly everything we know can come crashing down.
— from the publisher
Emma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff, and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. She started her business as a psychology consultant, specializing in human performance in extreme situations. She lives in South Wales with her husband and two young sons.
I’m fascinated by disaster, airline crashes, earthquakes, bombings. Whilst that sounds slightly worrying (especially to those closest to me) what I really mean is that I am fascinated by what disaster does to us as people.
We are very good at maintaining personas, being the kind of person we want the world to see. Exposure to a massive trauma makes that all but impossible. It strips us bare. Turns us from the people we wish we were into the people we really are.
I had spent a lot of time researching airline crashes (see previous explanation of deeply disturbing psyche), and was fascinated by a number of cases in which the role of the pilot in the incident was ambiguous. I wanted to look deeper into that, the way in which this one person, sitting in a small dark cockpit, can change the world for so many people. Not just those on board, but their families, friends, the reach goes on and on.
How, I wondered, would you survive that? Not just the crash itself, but its aftermath. Would you be the same person coming out as you were going in? How could you possibly? And how do you pick yourself up and carry on?
Out of these questions, After We Fall was born.
Emma Kavanagh is a former police and military psychologist, and author of After We Fall: A Novel (Sourcebooks). You can find Emma on twitter: @EmmaLK
You can read an excerpt from Chapter One here
Tom: Thursday, March 15, 6:16 p.m.
Tom’s feet skated on black ice, and for a moment he hung in the air, shoes scrabbling for purchase on the steep incline. He slid, past gluttonous Dumpsters, through the puddle of yellow light that spilled from the street lamp, back into the darkness of the alleyway, a narrow artery littered with used syringes and disco balls of silver foil, air choked with the spiky scent of urine and rot. Then ice gave way to glistening tarmac, feet settling onto solid ground again.
The heroin-thin figure was just ahead, plunging through banked-up snow, skin blue on drug-tracked arms. Callum Alun Jones had been out of prison for a little over a month. The iced wind pulled at his breath, throwing it back toward Tom, dousing him in sweet alcohol, the musk of cigarettes. This time Callum’s victim had been eighty-seven years old—a survivor of the Normandy campaign, an English teacher. A tremulously thin man with a shock of white hair who had buried his wife and his youngest daughter within a year of one another and who had spent the last six months clinging grimly to a life that had all but defeated him. He’d been sleeping when Callum had broken into his tiny terraced house, had woken suddenly, roused by something that he couldn’t identify. Had found the drug addict in his kitchen, seen Callum’s rat-tail fingers closing around his dead wife’s wedding ring, and then the fists that rained down on him until everything turned red. The man had woken in the hospital two days later, face gray and eyes empty, finally defeated.
Tom had held the old man’s hand as he wept and had thought that there were days when this was the worst job in the world. He had been on the force for fifteen years. Eight in uniform, pounding pavement in the lashing rain, drainpipe drizzles plopping from the rim of his helmet onto his fluorescent jacket. Then the Criminal Investigation Department. CID. A detective, just like his father. He tried not to think about that. His mother said that was why he had never gone for promotion, why staying a detective constable was enough for him. Not because he didn’t think he was capable of reaching the dizzying heights of detective chief inspector, but because if he did, then he would truly be his father’s son. And anything was better than that.
Fifteen years. Fifteen years in which Tom had seen more than a dozen dead bodies, smelled death more times than he would have thought possible. He remembered the last time he had arrested Callum Jones, spared a moment as he danced through patches of ice to wonder how long it would be until he was arresting him again. A never-ending carousel.
Tom breathed in the bitter cold air, skidding on the ice-rink tarmac. Thought of his son that morning, eyes still heavy with sleep. No idea that his mother had gone.
“You’re going to go to Grandma’s today. Okay, Ben?”
His son had studied him, the light from the rising sun throwing shadows onto a face creased into a little-boy frown. Then a smile that could break your heart. “’Kay, Daddy.” Baby-fat fingers reaching up carefully, hovering over the slick aubergine skin. “Show Gaga my owie.” Clumsy, the fingers brushed the bruise, and his rosebud lips pulled down, face creased. “Ow, Daddy.”
“I know, bud. You’re okay. Gaga will kiss it better.” And he’d tucked the toddler’s windmilling arms into thick, padded sleeves and tried not to think about what would come next. Watching his son’s chubby fingers spreading themselves wide, the frown as he examined them, like he’d never seen them before. Suddenly fascinating. Tried to ignore the words that circled his head, vultures above a carcass. Your mother left us. She’s not coming back.
Callum was inches ahead, running ragged on the steep incline. Tom dug his feet hard into the slush, gritting his teeth, the cold whipping at his lungs as he ran. He could see Callum’s arms, pumping back and forth beneath his T-shirt. Callum’s girlfriend stood there on the doorstep of their public housing unit, biting her lower lip as she cradled her track-covered arms and tried to disappear into the wallpaper. She had watched as her boyfriend—the one who loved her and who had beaten her hard enough to kill the drug-addled baby growing inside her—pushed past the arresting officers and into the snowbound night.
They were plunging down the hill, the cold catching at Tom’s throat, running so fast it seemed that they were falling. Sound of cars, getting louder, and then the alleyway opened up, spitting them onto the curve of a main road, traffic thin and moving slowly in the slush. Past the skeleton of a pay phone, all jagged glass edges, glittering in orange street lighting. The snow was thinner here, mounds thinning into furrows of slush. Callum raced onward, not glancing left or right, past the wide-eyed shop windows where late shoppers peered over displays, out into the road, an almost terminal slip in the car-tracked snow, then regaining his balance and diving on past the co-op. Tom veered around slush, breathing easy, compact body primed by years of running.
A beam of light and the slam of a car door.
Tom glanced sideways at his partner, Dan. “Took your time.”
“Got fucking lost. Ended up in a bastard funeral procession.”
“At least you’re clearly not the Grim Reaper. Not got the figure for it.”
“Whatever, skinny arse. You going to catch this little shit, or what?”
Tom had woken that morning to the sound of the front door. It always stuck in the cold. It had pulled him from a dream into a moment of disorientation, and he lay blinking into the darkness. Then the growl of an engine, settling back into a steady grumble, swaddled in snow. He wondered distantly just where it was that Cecilia was going this early in the morning. She wasn’t due to fly until that night. The rhythm of the engine climbed, wheels crunching on the snow. But then did it really matter when you came right down to it? He listened to the car until he could hear it no more, then lay for a while in the silence. He didn’t know what made him get up. How it was that he just suddenly knew. He pushed back the covers, bare feet on thick carpet, and padded down the hall to the room that had become known as Cecilia’s room. He pushed the door, that feeling in his stomach of treading where he wasn’t supposed to go. Snapped on the light. The curtains were closed. The bed was made, comforter pulled tight across the box frame. He stood there for a moment. It looked like a guest room again. The book was gone. The one she had been reading, the one whose title he had never bothered to learn. And the picture of Ben in its knotted silver frame that had sat on the bedside table. That was gone too. He crossed the room, slowly pulled open the closet door. Ran his fingers over the few clothes that remained. They smelled of his wife. He stood there, staring at the gaping hole, the naked metal hangers. And knew. His marriage was over.
He had gone back to bed, footsteps slow. She was supposed to watch Ben today. That was what she had said. But it was probably for the best, after yesterday. He hadn’t been able to sleep, though, had stared at the ceiling for an hour, maybe more. The bedroom door had creaked, a little after six, and Tom had listened to the tread of little-boy feet on carpet, hiding a smile as a soft voice whispered, “’Kay, Daddy. Back to sleep. I stay here now.” The heart-stopping warmth of his son creeping under the comforter, huddling against him. Tom cuddled him in, painfully aware that it didn’t even occur to Ben to wonder where his mother was.
Callum turned sharply, into the road, past the primary school—closed, thank God—then a sharp left into the alleyway that snaked by the steepled building. Snow climbed into peaks, hiding the detritus that lay beneath. But it was dark. That was why he didn’t see the leaking downspout and the lake of ice that had spread out across the narrow alleyway.
In fairness, Tom didn’t see it either. What he saw was Callum’s legs stretched in a giant leap over a protruding snowbank, sailing through the air in a balletic moment of elegance that Tom doubted his sad little life had ever seen before. Then that moment when everything goes wrong, as his right foot made contact with the ground, expecting a solid surface, somewhere safe to land, arms windmilling as his body realized before his brain did that there was no safety here and that the solid ground had warped into a sheet of ice. Then his left foot, landing because it had no choice, desperately trying to make the situation better but only making it worse. And then both feet giving up the game, as they slid out from under him and he dropped like a stone, skinny arse landing on the frozen ground with a sickening thud.
Tom skidded to a halt, keeping his feet on firm ground, before reaching out, hands encompassing the bone-thin wrists. “Come on.” He hoisted him up. “Callum Alun Jones, I am arresting you for assault and burglary—”
“Little fucker, little fucker, little fucker…” Tom didn’t look around, didn’t need to, to know that Dan was skidding, arms flailing wildly from a body more designed for rugby than slalom. “Stand still, you little shit. I swear to God, I’m going to…” Then a pause, as ice and breathlessness tore his partner’s words from his mouth.
Tom snapped handcuffs onto the addict’s wrists, the narrow figure writhing as Tom read him his rights, kicking out at Tom’s shins.
“Fuck you, wanker.” Callum’s voice sounded like sandpaper.
Tom wrapped him in a tight grasp. “Yeah, yeah.”
Callum twisted, pulling his head back. Tom should have seen it coming. He’d been here often enough. Shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But he was off his game today, not paying the attention he should, and the gob of murky fluid hit him square in the face.
“Little shit.” Dan grabbed Callum, pushing his shoulder into the ground. “Fucking little shit.”
Tom wiped his face with his sleeve. “Forget it. He’s a pussy.” Pulled him bodily to his feet. “Come on, mate. Walk.”
Snow had begun to fall again in thick flakes, and in spite of himself, Tom wondered if Cecilia would be flying today, took a second to reflect on the irony of running away from your husband and son only to be grounded by a late spring snowfall. The wind had whipped up, bitterly cold, swirling torrents of snow into miniature tornadoes. They walked slowly, heads down. Callum had stopped struggling, was trudging beside them, cuffed hands folded behind his back as he muttered to himself about his human rights. It would be a tough night to fly.
They were in the car, Callum tucked into the back, shivering wildly without the adrenalin to keep him warm.
Dan turned the key, the engine sparking to life. “Bloody weather.”
“Supposed to be like this for a while.”
“So they say.”
“You, ah, you hear about Maddie?”
Tom watched the snow tumbling by his window. “Yeah.”
“May, the baby’s due.”
“Said she’ll be sticking around in CID with us. They’ve got her doing light duties.” Dan eased the car out onto the slick roadway. “You guys talk much now?”
Since he had told her he was leaving her. Since he had broken her heart and his own in the process.
“A bit. Not much.” Tom reached, twisting the volume button until another voice drowned out Dan and the memory of what could have been. The newscaster’s tone was serious. Tom was going to change the channel, his hand moving, but then something fluttered at his subconscious, so his hand hung in midair, stopped by something that he didn’t recognize. Then the words.
After We Fall is an intense, psychological thriller that delves into the lives of four unique individuals battling both secrets and loss. It’s a book that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, wondering until the very end how it all connects.
I really enjoyed this read. I do have to say it was semi- confusing at times when it jumped back and forth between present time and flashback memory within the same POV scene but not enough to take away from the intensity of the story. Or from the trauma and troubles facing the main characters. In fact, I found I didn’t mind a little bit of confusion, but the story was just so darn good, and so tightly woven together that I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next.
After We Fall takes a good, hard look at the human psyche, the struggles people face when weighted by secrets, the tangled lives we sometimes don’t realize we lead, and how tragedy can strike and circumstances can change without warning. This is a book that makes you think, by an author who doesn’t shy away from the darker, grittier, more troubled side of human nature.
If you’re like me and love to know what makes people tick, what drives them to do the things they do, this is an excellent book to read. As a lover and student of both psychology and law enforcement, this book appealed to me in innumerable ways. I went to college and double majored in developmental psychology and criminal justice law enforcement because people and the choices they make fascinate me. This story deals with that, and much, much more. It held me captive from beginning to end. The characters are just so raw and so real, I couldn’t stop reading about them. Because of that, I highly recommend reading this book. Emma Kavanagh does not disappoint, and neither does her debut book.