Picks and Pans Review: Free Fall

updated 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by J.D. Reed

Within this fine first novel, loosely based on the still unsolved 1971 skyjacking by "D.B. Cooper" (PEOPLE, March 3, 1980), is another book altogether. On one level, it is a taut adventure that begins where Cooper left off, parachuting out the rear door of an airliner with a small fortune in ransom. The protagonist—here called" J.R. Meade"—escapes, but assigned to his pursuit is his old Vietnam Special Forces sergeant, as obsessive as Ahab. The chase intensifies as it nears the Mexican border, where it ends (or does it?). Along the way, Reed, a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer, creates some marvelous characters—most memorably a fierce old Army general and a vicious Snopes-like villain—and something of a black comedy. Meade, while seeking anonymity, inspires a craze, complete with T-shirts bearing his picture, and a Top 40 hit called The Ballad of J.R. Meade. Becoming brazen, Meade recounts his crime for a reporter, confident the man's disbelieving New York editors will spike the story. They do. (Delacorte, $8.95)

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