Nelson DeMille

"Night Fall"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 27, 2005)

Everyone loves a mystery. Except cops. For cops, mysteries, if they remain mysteries, become career problems.

Who killed JFK? Who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby? Why did my first wife leave me? I don't know. They weren't my cases. 

I'm John Cory, formerly a New York City homicide detective, now working for the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force, in what can only be described as the second act of a one-act life.

Here's another mystery. What happened to TWA Flight 800? That wasn't my case either, but it was my second wife's case back in July 1996, when TWA 800, a big Boeing 747 bound for Paris with 230 passengers and crew on board, exploded off the coast of Long Island, sending all 230 to their deaths.

On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airlines Flight 800 departed New York City's John F. Kennedy international Airport en route to Paris, France, carrying 212 passengers and 18 crew members. It departed JFK at about 8:16 p.m. eastern time and was climbing through 13,760 feet when, 14 minutes into the flight it exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 9 miles off Long Island. All 230 people onboard were killed. This is fact.

Nelson DeMille's novel Night Fall is based on factual evidence. He explores the controversy surrounding the cause of  the disaster which the US government still officially attributes to a spark in Flight 800's center fuel tank. The FBI interviewed 154 "credible" witnesses - including scientists, schoolteachers, Army personnel and business executives - who described seeing a missile heading through the sky just before TWA 800 exploded. They reported a "streak of light" hitting the plane just before it blew up." There testimony was disregarded. Today, more than eight years after the event, questions are still being raised about the accuracy of the findings - about a possible cover-up. DeMille's research is impressive. He stresses that the novel draws on published accounts, plus interviews with investigators and eyewitnesses to the crash. He says he has "tried to represent all sides of this controversy," but adds that he has taken "dramatic liberties and literary license when there is conflicting evidence." This is, after all, a work of fiction. It is up to the reader to determine the level of believability.

Bud Mitchell and Jill Winslow, an affluent couple in their thirties, are in the middle of an illicit love affair. They're set for a romantic evening at the beach. It's a rare occasion when the two can get away from their respective spouses for an entire night. They find a cozy spot below a dune overlooking the ocean at Cupsogue Beach County Park on Long Island, bringing with them wine, a blanket and a video camera. Planning to make passionate love on film, Bud and Jill are excited by the thought of watching themselves later on the VCR. Suddenly a terrible explosion lights up the sky. The sound of a tremendous explosion follows. The couple flees, taking the camera with them, as police cars speed toward the scene, sirens blaring. In the car, on the way back to their hotel, Jill discovers that the camera has captured the entire event. She and Bud are no longer the main feature. The date is July 17, 1996.

Five years later, July 17, 2001, the crash of Flight 800 has been attributed to a mechanical malfunction. Kate Mayfield and her husband, John Cory, are both members of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. Together they attend the fifth year memorial service for TWA Flight 800's victims' families and friends. Kate was involved in the investigation and the case still haunts her. She has never been satisfied with the resolution and convinces John, an ex-NYPD detective, to take an interest in re-opening the investigation - on his own. Since they have been strongly warned by the FBI to stay away, the rogue, anti-establishment ex-cop becomes interested. When Kate introduces her hubby to credible eye witnesses and gives him a tour of the reconstructed airplane, his interest peaks. John is a superb detective and soon learns about a possible piece of crucial evidence that was never brought to light. He is determined to discover if it still exists, and in his search begins to see signs of a monumental cover-up. 

Mr. Demille is at his best here, as far as storytelling goes.The plot is riveting, the theory intriguing, the characters at once exciting, energetic and believable, and the ending left me stunned. Powerful!! Unfortunately, the writing is not his best. The humor is good, but it does fall flat more than occasionally. Since John Cory is a smart aleck, at times, he comes off as obnoxious. I have seen DeMille use dark humor much more effectively. The plot, and the research that went into the writing, the suspense, more than make up for the pedestrian narrative. I remember clearly the evening of the crash and where I was when I heard the news. I felt terrible pain for the victims and their loved ones, and have always been interested in the reports and findings. It appears that the author has been very troubled by the tragedy. His concerns come across loud and clear.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 390 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Night Fall at the author's website

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"Up Country"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 29, 2002)

I looked at the countryside as we passed through the valley, and I saw it was green again, and life had returned, coffee and vegetables grew over the bones, and the human race marched on toward something hopefully better.

Yet standing there on the plateau, I knew that I, and Ted, and Mr. Tram could hear the whispers of ghosts on the wind, and the distant sound of that bugle that spit the quiet night and roused the beast in each man's heart.

Paul Brenner retired from being an army investigator after the case of the General's Daughter. Too much disillusionment, too many repercussions. He's unsure of what he's going to do with his life or his relationship with fellow investigator Cynthia Sunhill, but he's pretty sure he doesn't want to take the case his ex-boss wants him to handle. Finally, out of boredom more than the rewards promised him if he takes it, he heads for Vietnam.

Read excerptThe case proves challenging. Recently there has been a campaign to return "souvenirs" taken by American solders to the families of the Vietnamese solders. One veteran has turned in a letter, that when translated relates a chilling tale. A US Captain murdered a US Lieutenant, and Karl Hellmann, Brenner's ex-boss, wants him to find out who and why. Although the recipient is long dead, they figure his brother, who wrote the letter, may not be. His job is to track down the writer, find out exactly what he saw, see if there's any evidence. Brenner goes, uncertain he wants to relive the experiences of his past. He meets Susan Weber, a businesswoman who Brenner knows is more than she seems. He knows that something else is going on; that there are ulterior motives in the mix, and watches everything carefully.

While the case was really interesting, I was especially taken by the side trips to various battlefields that Brenner takes. DeMille himself is a Vietnam Vet who took part in a specially designed tour for people wanting to see the places that changed so many lives, and therefore is able to add a lot to the setting to this story. Paul Brenner and the men around him relate their experiences and revisit battlefields. They even visit some of the tunnels especially set up so people can go inside them with safety that was never a consideration when they were in their true use. Through these scenes we get a feel for what really happened. He mentions horrors that we never hear about, things that a soldier had to live through that are as terrifying as they are heartbreaking. Often, I admit, when an author takes too many side journeys I can become impatient. These scenes outside the main plot were so beautifully and compellingly written, I never felt that way. These passages left me with a truly well drawn idea of what the war was really like, and a greater appreciation for the people who had to fight in it.

I thought the resolution was quite a surprise, and I admired Brenner's actions in the end. Brenner is a thoughtful character whose wry sense of humor made me smile several times.

An interesting journey all around, Up Country takes us on a memorial journey, filled with enough action and romance to make some of the harder lessons easier, and with enough history to make the lessons valuable.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 438 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Up Country at the author's website

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Bibliography: (with links to

*Sequel to The Gold Coast

Features John Corey, ex-NYPD detective:

Written as Jack Cannon (all out-of-print)

Written as Ellen Kay

  • The Five-Million-Dollar Woman: Barbara Walters (1975)

Movies from books:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Colin HarrisonNelson DeMille was born in New York City and moved as a child with his family to Long Island. DeMille spent three years at Hofstra University, then joined the Army and attended Officer Candidate School. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and served in Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division.

DeMille returned to the States and went back to Hofstra University where he received his degree in Political Science and History. He married and had two children, divorced, and remarried in 1988.

DeMille's earlier books were NYPD detective novels. His first major novel was By the Rivers of Babylon, published in 1978 and still in print, as are all his succeeding novels. He is a member of The Authors Guild, the Mystery Writers of America, and American Mensa. He holds three honorary doctorates: Doctor of Humane Letters from Hofstra University, Doctor of Literature from Long Island University, and Doctor of Humane Letters from Dowling College. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014