I enjoyed this book. I really did. It had a solid plot with an interesting mystery. It had a likable protagonist, a cast of antagonists, including a violent factory union and malicious media reps. The conclusion was satisfying.
Yet there's something present in most of Crichton's books that was missing in this one.
This book felt like comfort food. It was good, it filled me up, it was safe--but it didn't blow me away. It wasn't exotic, I never felt in danger, the waves were calm and never frightening. But I enjoyed it, and still walked away happy.
An airplane flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles experiences sudden and violent turbulence over the Pacific--turbulence bad enough to kill 3 people and injure dozens more. The maker of the aircraft, Norton Airframes, is blamed for the incident. It's up to Casey, one of the company VPs, to find out what went wrong within a week, before the news affects the company's big sale to China.
There are several good subplots in the book. The Union of Auto Workers (UAW) is unhappy with the pending China sale, and makes it dangerous for Casey to walk on the factory floor. One of the executives in the company has an ulterior motive, and has sent an intern to spy on Casey for an unknown reason. And the media is poised to jump on Norton Airframes even though the turbulence wasn't their fault at all.
Similar to State of Fear, Crichton lets a trickle of his personal opinion into this book, regarding the media. He (accurately) portrays the modern media as bloodthirsty and headstrong, with a low attention span, more concerned with telling a good story than journalistic integrity. Considering the book was written in 1996, I can only imagine his opinion strengthened in this regard with the rise of the internet, and I wish Crichton were here today to comment on it.
It's difficult to go into much more detail about Airframe without spoiling the book, so I won't try. Airframe is an enjoyable industrial mystery with all the framework and meat of a good story, even if it is one of Crichton's weaker ones.