In Free Fall: A Novel
“Doublethink must go.” These words destroy a man’s life rather than create the challenge intended by the sender.
The primary characters, or would-be players, in the challenge include: Liam, an insightful, precocious, ten-year-old boy who lovingly emulates his father’s interest in the world of physics, yet cannot confirm the occurrence of his own kidnapping; Maike, his mother who was a dreamer and filled with wanderlust, subdued by marriage, yet still a bicycling enthusiast and a curator of an art museum; Sebastian, her husband and Liam’s father, lost in his perceived erroneous decision to leave behind physics theory and to embrace the “Many Worlds Interpretation” of time and space; and Oskar, constant friend and companion of Sebastian since their university days until Sebastian’s marriage to Maike, a man who comes to dinner the first Friday of every month at Maike’s insistence, though professional jealousy between the two friends creates arguments and competition between them.
Surgical patients in a hospital are dying for no apparent reason. A young boy is kidnapped—or was he? A respected member of the surgical team is beheaded while bicycling on a lonely road. The kidnapped boy returns home unexpectedly. What is the connection—or is there a connection between these seemingly disparate events?
Rita Skuri, a “flawed” detective, user of a superstitious form of reverse psychology to arrive at the truth and solve crimes, vies to maintain control of the case by pushing forward to gain momentum against her long-time mentor and former teacher, Detective Chief Schiff who, she fears, will interfere with her efforts at every turn. Schilf assures her that he is merely a bystander and his only interest is in the philosophical underpinnings of the case. Truly, this is not a typical whodunit with a simplistic underlying motive.
Detective Rita does the drudge work of locating hospital staffers, inclined to protect their own, while she interviews them for clues. Meanwhile D. C. Schilf bumbles his way through the scientific haze created by the German and Swiss philosophers and listens to his “inner observer,” perhaps brought on by the tumor expanding inside his skull, to seek out a few pointed interviews, determine other facts, and solve the case. Yet, puzzlingly, he waits for Rita to ask before sharing his information with her.
The detectives conclude their case with an open-ended experiment, though Rita participates somewhat reluctantly, to demonstrate what actually took place, and why, and to extract a confession from the true perpetrator of the crime. The experiment, and ultimately the demise of one participant, leaves the reader with only a vague glimpse of the reality of the situation.
In Free Fall is an elaborately spun story that may appeal to more sophisticated readers than to those looking for a quick-read murder mystery. The average reader may tire of waiting and miss the many hints at the truth sprinkled throughout the story. Initially one may decide that the story moves too slowly only to find a few pages later that it is impossible to put the book down.
Author Juli Zeh received many awards for her debut novel, Eagles and Angels. She has been touted as a rising star who has established herself as the new master of the philosophical thriller. In Free Fall lends full credence to that description.