Fresh Blood

Name: Emma Kavanagh

Title of Book: Falling

'‘Falling’ is a stunningly beautiful read...'

A plane falls out of the sky. A woman is brutally murdered. Four people all have something to hide.

Jim is a retired police officer and a worried father. His beloved daughter, a young PCSO, has been murdered. His life is rapidly falling apart.

Tom has woken up to discover that his flight attendant wife was on the plane that crashed and he must break the news to their three-year-old son. It falls on him to lead the murder investigation but his fragile personal life threatens to overshadow it.

Cecilia had packed her bags and walked out on her family. Now that she has survived the plane crash she sees no way out of her previous life and returns to the family home.

Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her pilot father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.

‘Falling’ is the debut novel from a former police psychologist who has definitely weaved her professional knowledge into this story. The result is an emotional journey as people come to terms with a horrific plane crash on their doorstep.

Emma Kavanagh has crafted a multi-layered story with complex, and very human characters. The murder of a PCSO sometimes plays out in the shadow of the aftermath of the plane crash but the writing is so sublime that you forget this is a crime novel; you actually feel for the characters and want them to survive their personal torment as they struggle with the loss of a loved one and re-examine their lives.

‘Falling’ is a stunningly beautiful read; well written, expertly crafted and frighteningly real. The pace is slow and dark but that is deliberate as you recover with the characters. You're not just reading their story; you're living it with them as they come to terms with a plane crash and a murder at the heart of their community. There is not one single aspect to dislike about this book. My least favourite character was Cecilia but I even warmed towards her by the end.

Emma Kavanagh is certainly an author to watch. I love a gripping psychological thriller and they do not come more gripping and psychological than this. By the final page you'll feel as if you have been on an emotional roller coaster and that is precisely how you should feel if the story is as well-handled as ‘Falling’.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) When you were constructing ‘Falling’ which story did you come up with first; the murder or the plane crash?
As a psychologist specialising in trauma, I am always fascinated by the effects of large-scale disasters and the way in which they have a tendency to unravel what was once a seemingly well-structured world. With ‘Falling’, the concept began with the plane crash, but then I began looking at what events would have surrounded this in the characters’ lives, both leading up to it and during the aftermath. I think that is what is so often captivating to us about trauma - it will often have a myriad of both causes and consequences.
2) With a background in psychology are the stories based on real life events or a product of your imagination?
I will often begin with a kernel of truth, and then use that as a basis for a story. I spend a huge amount of time researching crime and large-scale traumatic events, and much of that research simply slots itself into my store of knowledge. But sometimes there will be a story, or a piece of a story, that will catch my imagination and will act as the springboard for an entire world of characters and events.
3) Cecilia is a very difficult character to like having left her husband and young son. Was she hard to write for?
In truth she really wasn’t. I think that you’re right in that Cecilia certainly fails to conform to many of the norms that we expect of people, and that can make her tough to like. But for me she was simply a woman who was desperately trying (often not very successfully) to cope with all of the traumas that life has thrown at her. I guess it’s interesting that at a time when I am raising a young son myself I can write, and feel sympathy for, a mother who is capable of behaving in ways that I would never dream of. I think that the truth of the matter is Cecilia is someone who started out her family on deeply unsteady ground, and throughout the novel struggles to find the skills to give herself to them and be what they would need. And I am always interested in those people who are struggling to cope with situations that they just don't have the tools to manage. I ultimately came to feel a great deal of affection for Cecilia and her often flawed attempts to piece herself back together.
4) ‘Falling’ is a true psychological thriller, which writers are you influenced by?
So many! I think we are extraordinarily lucky to have such a wealth of new and emerging talent available to us. Two of my biggest and most long-standing influences are Barbara Kingsolver and Kate Atkinson. I have adored Barbara Kingsolver since I read ‘THE POISONWOOD BIBLE’ years ago - her talent and gift for creating a world that never leaves you is just exceptional. And I love Kate Atkinson’s ability to move beyond the confines of any one genre, with her Jackson Brodie series and then to the incredible ‘LIFE AFTER LIFE’. I am also pretty addicted to Agatha Christie - her ability to plot a novel is just unbelievable.
5) There is potential for a series of novels, Tom investigating crimes while single-handedly raising his son. Is this something you have in mind or are you pursuing stand-alone thrillers?
A number of people have asked me this, and I certainly think that the market demand for crime series is pretty high. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of reading series books. There are exceptions - Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels - but generally I’m a bigger fan of stand-alone novels. The other issue is that I have so many ideas for stories and for characters that it would feel pretty limiting to only write about the one world. That said, never say never, and maybe in a couple of books time I’ll decide I want to revisit Tom and see how he’s getting on.
6) As I read your novel I kept thinking of the current news surrounding the missing airplane, MH370. Does it feel strange releasing your novel whilst there is all this intense media attention about MH370 being played out daily on our TV screens?
A little. As a psychologist - particularly one whose main focus is on trauma - to hear a story like that of MH370 brings to mind so many aspects of what the families must be going through. Any plane crash is a devastating experience. It represents a fracturing of our perceptions that we live in a stable world, makes us confront our own mortality, and deal with incredible levels of loss and grief. I think that what separates MH370 from many (although certainly not all) plane crashes is the intense level of mystery that has surrounded it. This has fuelled extreme media speculation which I can only imagine must add to the horror through which the families are living. Any loss of a loved one is devastating, but to lose one in such a way as this - with little to no understanding as to how they vanished or why - is particularly difficult for people to move past and can lead to a very complicated form of grieving. I just hope that the families receive some answers soon.
7) ‘Falling’ is classed as a psychological crime novel. Are you comfortable with this label and is this the kind of fiction you wanted to write when you started your debut novel?
Absolutely. I am one of nature’s psychologists - I always want to understand why things happen and why people behave in the way in which they do. It was pretty inevitable that my writing would reflect that. And I think that crime holds an enduring fascination for us as a society. We want to know what could drive someone to do such a thing, how they can keep it hidden and what the fallout of these tragedies can be. I also love plotting - the craft of it - figuring out how to weave strands together so that a story emerges, and few genres allow as much scope for that as crime. You only have to look at the intricacies of an Agatha Christie plot to see that it’s like one huge puzzle. As a writer, I love the challenge of how to deliver the clues in a way that allows the reader to begin to unravel the mystery. I’m still figuring this bit out myself!
8) What are you working on now?
I have recently completed the latest round of edits on book 2 – ‘The Casualties’. There is still more work to be done (isn’t there always?!), but I am getting there. The book opens with a mass shooting - it has been a complicated book to write in terms of structure, but I have to say that I have absolutely loved writing it.
9) What do you look for when you pick up a book to read?
Good writing, first and foremost. No matter how appealing a concept is, I am likely to struggle with it if the writing doesn’t move fluidly. After that I think I am mainly looking for a world that I want to spend time in. Reading is such an escape. Good writing will transport you to an entirely new world and hold you there for the duration of the book, or, if it’s a great book, beyond. That’s what I want. A novel that makes me miss the world and the characters whenever I put it down, so that in the end I cannot put it down. One that, when I finish the book, the characters stay with me and I end up feeling slightly disjointed - that I still have one foot in that fictional world.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’ was the first of her novels that I read, and I was just blown away by how clever her plotting was. I think that it was the first time I really understood just how intricate a crime novel could be, and it really inspired me to want to push myself and my own abilities in terms of plot design.

‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. I’ll admit that I was nervous about reading this one. I struggle with novels that deal with any form of child abuse, and the concept of this novel worried me a little. Until I picked it up. My god, what an extraordinary book! Jack is one of the most incredible characters I have ever read. The way Emma Donoghue conveyed this narrow world through this child’s eyes, turning something deeply abnormal into all that he has ever known, deeply touched me, and for weeks afterwards I would catch myself thinking about little Jack and wondering how he was doing.

‘Presumed Innocent’ by Scott Turow - I love the complexity of this. I love how it keeps you constantly wrong-footed and the way in which you are never entirely sure just who it is you can trust. This one showed me that characters don’t have to be good, and that there is a certain appeal in realising that you have been conned by the protagonist.