Jessica Barry’s Freefall

thumbnail_image001My goodness, this is a gripping read! Beginning with a plane crash, we follow the sole survivor, Allison, as she makes her way across America in an attempt to get home to her mother, Maggie, who believes her daughter died in the wreckage. We slowly piece together Allison’s life before the crash, and we become aware that she is running for her life.

‘The weight of the bag propels me down the mountain at speed, the dim moonlight guiding my way through the trees. Branches thwack against my arms and legs. I fall once, hard. I let out a wail but get back on my feet and carry on. The blood thunders in my ears. All night I run. I don’t let myself look back. I don’t let myself stop.’

The decision to have Allison’s story unfold in the present tense, with harsh staccato sentences, works brilliantly to ensure that we are right there with her as she flees the wreckage. What she is running from comes into focus as the novel develops, and I was completely caught up in her race against time. Barry ratchets up the tension as the plot, which switches between Allison’s and Maggie’s stories, moves into increasingly sinister territory, focusing on the pharmaceutical industry and murky underhand dealing.

Maggie is a brilliant character, a mother who refuses to give up hoping, even when she has received her daughter’s necklace, recovered from the crash site.

‘Them finding her necklace meant she’d been on that plane. I was sure of that now, I had to accept it. But them finding the necklace but not her body … something didn’t add up.’

Maggie’s refusal to fully accept what her friends are telling her leads her to start her own digging around. She has to accept that her daughter had been living a life quite different to that Maggie has imagined, but she is determined to find her daughter at all costs. Their relationship is complex, and Maggie’s utter refusal to believe her daughter is dead is very moving. This is a thriller with a good deal of emotional depth.

I could see this being a very successful film – it’s well-paced and the tight descriptions make it very easy to visualise Allison’s increasingly desperate bid to get back to her mother. It’s full of strong, brave women, and I read it in one sitting, thoroughly absorbed in the narrative. Top stuff!

My thanks to Anna Redman Aylward at Vintage for my review copy.

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