STARSTRUCK by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1975, W.H. Allen, 217pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: A violent summer storm over New York hits an incoming private jet and sends it crashing into the side of the Empire State Building where it rests precariously embedded. Disturbing passions are already simmering among the VIP passengers, many of whom have secrets to hide – secrets that are sure to be revealed whether they survive or not. And now fear comes to grow as the nail-biting hours draw themselves out. The world’s most famous singer… the country’s vice-president… the new black hope prize fighter… the terrified funny man whose pregnant wife is about to go into labour… these are some of the passengers whose lives depend on Drummond, the explorer, and his co-adventurer, Hitachi, called in to secure the remains of the plane, lodged like a huge arrow nearly seventy storeys up.
Ernest Tidyman’s 1975 novel was the writer’s first foray into the disaster genre. Indeed a screenplay was developed simultaneously in the hope of cashing in on the success of movies such as Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. It also resonates closely with The Towering Inferno in its skyscraper setting. The first half of the book is taken up by slowly introducing a sleazy set of celebrity characters in Las Vegas. All the genre elements are played out through this familiar VIP cast, which includes a singer and his home-loving brother and fiancee, a comedian, a boxer and his doctor mentor, the vice-president and his mistress, a reporter, etc. Tidyman is excellent at giving these characters depth through his third-person subjective approach. Once the plane hits a storm and is smashed into the sixty-eighth floor of the Empire State Building leaving the surviving passengers stranded inside as the plane is suspended above West 33rd Street, Tidyman racks up the tension and introduces the book’s two heroes – explorer and mountaineer Drummond and his sidekick Hitachi. His heroes, though, are less well drawn than the passengers as their introduction is brief before they are immediately plunged into the action. The book gathers pace during the attempted rescue as the tensions between the fire department, the secret service and Drummond rise, whilst the passengers are pulled together as a group by their survival instinct. The resulting finale, however, is somewhat disappointing in that many of the character plot threads are left unresolved. It all feels a little rushed. Whilst Tidyman’s book is largely derivative and has its flaws, at 217 pages it is also a quick and entertaining read, but it does little to push his credentials as a writer.