Reviews of my books

Reviews of Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by MJ Vara

My original title for this review (but ditched, too long!): Suspenseful, yet familiar...creates a suffocating sense of coming doom for the characters, then you remember: it's a true story!

I was intrigued by the "teaser" (and also the title) for this book: "One fine afternoon on a sun drenched island hundreds of lives are destroyed...a true story." I wondered: tsunami? terror attack? a case of mass, very serious failure of sunscreen resulting in the death of hundreds of beachgoers?

As it turned out, after a few pages I realized I was familiar with the topic: teen memories of my parents/maternal aunt talking about it at the time, plus images of TV news that evening and the following days; and even a somewhat recent "air disaster" type program I watched on Netflix. The book concerns the "Tenerife airport disaster," still ranked as the deadliest accident in aviation history (I promise, no spoilers beyond this, and in fact the writer spells out the subject matter in the prologue).

I happen to be one generation removed from Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands: my maternal grandmother was born/partly raised there (along about 1900, later she immigrated to Cuba, where I was born).

Despite my familiarity with the subject, I found this book quite well executes a challenging dilemma: when the reader knows the end-result (for example, the JFK assassination or the sinking of the Titanic), how does the writer create a captivating, even suspenseful narrative?

True, in this case most readers may not know the end-result, but again, the writer mentions it early on. Modjeska takes the same tack as Alfred Hitchcock famously stated as the recipe for suspense: scenario 1: diners at a table, one steps away, then suddenly a bomb explodes, all are dead save the one; or 2: first, we are shown a bomb under the table, with a clock on it ticking towards zero...then, the camera rises to diners at a table, one steps away, the camera returns under, shows us the ticking bomb again, now the timer nearer to zero, the camera rises to the diners again, the laughter, the camaraderie, etc., then suddenly the bomb explodes, all are dead save the one (suspect? lucky?), and we find we have been tightly holding onto our seat, our lover's hand, or our TV remote as the suspense built...suddenly released (fyi, this is all from memory, but accurate, save perhaps for the one diner walking away (?).

Hitchcock termed the first scenario as nothing but shock and gore (as most horror/suspense movies are nowadays, so-called "slasher films")...the second scenario as the heart of suspense.

This writer, who I am not directly comparing to Hitchcock (after all this story is non-fiction/ a written narrative, not a film, etc.) nonetheless manages to engage in such suspense-building.

Modjeska also takes a tack that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found satisfying: a sense of "fate" closing in on the soon-to-be-victims: the nature of randomness, probability, small incidents, human fallibility all contributing to or even directly causing the tragedy about to unfold.

In addition, the author adds layers and details I was not aware of, despite my intermittent exposure over the decades to this story; for example, a bit about the much-lauded but now gone Pan American airlines' enlightened corporate culture (advanced by the standards of the 1970s; btw, is Pan Am back? I'd heard something about it being revived, I'll have to Google that).

A slim volume, for sure....a quick read....perfect for a one-sitting or two-sitting read.

I look forward to more from OJ Modjeska.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Ann de Mot

This story is brilliantly told. Although it is about an event back in the distant 1970s, it feels like it could have happened at any time, even today or tomorrow. A chain of intersecting events came together to create an almost unthinkable disaster with ghastly consequences for hundreds of people, their families and friends. The tremendous power of this account is the way it absorbs the reader into the network of seemingly unconnected and random incidents, each building on the other until the full dimensions are revealed. This is a wonderfully imaginative contribution to the field of disaster analysis, based on studies of original documents and eye-witness accounts, offering far more than a straight account of “what happened”. The author’s skilful writing brings out the full range of actions and reactions of the many tangled up in this disaster. Listening in to the voices of the cockpit crews and the air traffic controller is almost too painfully intimate. The role of the captains, the different cultures of their companies, the effect of personality and experience and the personal interactions between them come together in a blinding moment which nobody could ever have predicted. As the author points out, none of us like to think that we are subject to chains of chance and coincidence in the face of which we are ultimately helpless. Yet it is so. We are reminded to stand still for a moment and think about the deeper reality of the everyday life we take for granted, the flimsy networks which hold it all together. In a sense, this is a deeply philosophical work, prodding at the sense of normality which can collapse at any moment when conditions dictate. Outstanding.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Jules

This is a true story. Modjeska takes us on a journey that is not only factual but manages to be suspenseful and interesting. Not your usual dry read for a non-fiction book.

I had heard of the event at Tenerife airport in March 1977, which is still the worst accident in aviation history. As a fan of various "Air Crash Investigator" type shows I was very curious to know just what happened and how it all went wrong, but I got so much more in this book. Without giving away any spoilers the author takes us on a journey that builds suspense as it goes. We hear about the type of people involved. The events of the day, and the professional history of a couple of the "lead characters".

It reads like a story, but is factual at the same time. An interesting approach and I loved it. The air controller, the pilot, the crew members, and some of the passengers and their stories are interwoven with the facts, along with a background into the airlines and the actual details of the lead up to the accident...and then the accident itself is covered in good detail that is neither boring nor dry. This is all followed by the out come tying up the ends of each of the stories. It is only a short read, which respectful of its interested audience. It is neither filled with academic jargon nor simplified to the point of feeling condescending, drama-filled tripe as often happens with these types of books.

I am happy to recommend this book, and will be actively seeking more to read from this author.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Amazon customer

Miss Modjeska's command of the facts and the materials in her new book, Catastrophe, are quite remarkable, as she takes the reader from what appears to be a possible terror threat, at first, to a full scale catastrophe claiming the lives of nearly 600 people. This tragic event is not often talked about and is glossed over today, forty years later. Today, March 27th, 1977, happens to be the fortieth anniversary of this sad incident. This work is important because much of what caused this accident is still a problem today: heavy tin cans flying in the air, human error, and bad weather. It is admirable that Modjeska does not become biased in the telling of this horrible story. It would be easier for a lesser writer to start blaming airlines and pilots as evil, when, in fact, an accident of this magnitude is blameless and life changing. I recommend this book to all and it's concise precision leaves the reader wanting more and more.

Good things come in small packages

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by David Tatro

'Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise' is an excellent example of the old maxim that "Good things come in small packages." Do not let the brevity of this book fool you. Author OJ Modjeska has masterfully eliminated the superficial to bring the reader a disaster analysis of great depth and breadth which can easily be read in a single sitting but will leave you pondering its ramifications for some time to come.

To say this is the story of a plane crash would be true, but incomplete. Modjeska takes us on a journey far beyond the scope of the immediate circumstances and outlines a sometimes dizzying kaleidoscope of factors- technical, meteorological, cultural, legal, political, psychological, etc.- which all contributed to directing events to their tragic but perhaps inevitable conclusion. And she manages to do this in a way which is very human-centric while remaining balanced, objective and free of any dramatic invention.

Of greatest impact to me personally as a reader were the multiple ways in which this work embraces a significance which goes far beyond the analysis of a single air disaster. After all, what good IS disaster analysis if it does not help us to prevent future disasters? There is far more at stake here than to satisfy our morbid curiosity about a single incident, and as such, l can not recommend this book highly enough. It's a work of timeless significance, every bit as relevant to today's troubled world as it is to the burgeoning international air travel scene of some 40 years ago.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Christine Hayes

I couldn't put this one down. Taut with suspense, well researched and thoughtfully analysed, it takes you into the centre of the tragedy. My heart was in my throat at the moment before impact. Not just for aviation enthusiasts, this book is for anyone who loves suspense, non fiction or otherwise. Highly recommended.

Excellent read

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Phil Bolos

Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise by OJ Modjeska is the real story of the worst aviation accident in history. The Canary Islands, a popular tourist location for both American and European tourists in the late 1970s has just been rocked when its major airport was bombed by a separatists group seeking to gain independence from the Spanish who had been in control of the island chain for a long time. The decision was made to divert all air traffic to a small regional airport nearby when the threat of another bombing was made. An overwhelmingly large number of large planes then began to land and circle the small, understaffed, and ill equipped airport. To add to the mayhem, a thick fog rolled into the area which drastically cut down on the visibility of both the pilots and the air traffic controller. The stage was set for an easily avoidable, yet horrible accident to take place. This is the true story of that accident.
There are several things that I really enjoyed about this novella. First, it is short and gets right to the heart of the issue. Many times nonfiction gets bogged down with unnecessary discussions of small details. This one sticks to the main points and keeps on going. Second, it has been well researched and presented in a way that is easy for the reader to understand, enjoy, and learn from. Third, it brings to light an accident that many in the aviation field are aware of but most average people have no knowledge of. I really like it when an author takes the time to shine a light on a small forgotten part of history and make the reader aware of its importance. Excellent read.

An Amazing Story, Extraordinarily Told

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Sky Rae

An amazing book. I didn’t really have high expectations, buying the book on a whim. But wow, it is an amazing story. OJ Modjeska is a trained historian and criminologist, and she applies her careful analysis to examining the accident that claimed almost 600 lives in 1977, in the Canary Islands.

This short book is more than a work of historical fiction. Modjeska’s meticulous research not only informs her imagination about what might have happened, but also provides the basis of her careful historical analysis. The work transcends genre in this sense. It is part novel, part history, part philosophy – all focused on understanding this horrific airplane accident.

But it was Modjeska’s skill as a writer that kept the pages turning. I literally could not put this book down. It’s an easy read in one sitting, but it really is fascinating and horrifying to contemplate. I commend Modjeska for writing about this accident, for reflecting on its meaning, and for helping us as readers to consider all the coincidences that had to align for this accident to occur. An amazing read. Highly Recommended.

An amazing experience and well worth the read!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Krystalline

This is a gripping account of a true life event that happened when I was a child. The way the story is written brought it to life for me. I had no idea of the true extent of the tragedy when it happened, I was thankfully shielded from having to see such suffering. Now, as an adult I was quickly fascinated by the way the author told the story. It wasn't hard to imagine myself seeing first-hand every detailed scene as it happened so long ago.
This is a very well done book that reads quickly. Pages seem to turn faster as the story grabs you. I finished it in a day and feel like I have lived another lifetime since I read the first line.

What history and todays headlines miss

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Amazon customer

I feel this book is poignant in this day and age when everything is painted either black or white. With mainstream media being hell bent on attributing blame to a single cause or individual no matter how complex the situation 'we' loose. We loose our perspective in understanding how we got to this point and we loose in the discord created by the polarising nature of absolute truths.

Gone: Catastrophe in Paradise is an anatomy of disaster not as a dry clinical report but as a thoroughly readable account of not just the events that attributed to the fateful decision that cost so many lives, but also of the aftermath and the quest to attribute to blame. In understanding the complexities that lead up to a historical event that is remembered as 'he did it', we should perhaps ask ourselves what are the complexities behind today blame attributing headlines. While such attention grabbing headlines are nothing new, what is new is that by time the report has been released the news cycle has have moved on. Such well written accounts are a reminder of the complexities that don't make headlines and are rarely reveled before the news cycle moves on.

Fascinating reading and exceptional writing of an intriguing story

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Pat McDonald

It’s not often I say this, but it has been my privilege to read this novella which contains an account of the fatal catastrophe that occurred on the Island of Tenerife in March 1977. It is a wealth of excellent writing written in a journalistic style, that most journalists would wish to have. What struck me, amongst so many things, was the exceptional amount of research that must have gone into this novella. As a career researcher that fact is apparent to me.
With so many factors contributing to this fatal day, this account is written with extraordinary clarity; it is more than just an account, it captures the emotions, and the stresses and strains, of those involved. One thing that also struck me whilst reading the contributing factors, the intertwining contributions to what could have been avoided, was the part played finally by the mist that descended on the runway. Witnessing this kind of phenomenon in Scotland, UK (they call Scottish mist) I have seen how fast it can descend and how eerie it is, making you feel it is something beyond an ordinary occurrence. This was not a one off, but usual in this part of the Island which leads us to ask – why build an airport there?
I knew nothing about this tragedy before reading this novella, but this is such an outstandingly well written piece that it will haunt me because of its detailed descriptions. It is not sensationalism, nor is it an interpretation of the facts; it does not condemn any aspect of the facts, but it does show how complex something called ‘an accident’ can be. I particularly liked the postscript because it put 27th March 1977 Tenerife into perspective of the intervening years to present day because there will be survivors (hopefully) of these kinds of tragedies and relatives who live on and try to make sense of it all. This novella makes a lot of sense and is well worth reading. Pat McDonald British Crime Author.

A brilliant and evocative short read

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Nikki S

The events that took place in Los Rodeos, Tenerife on 27 March 1977 are described in fascinating detail in this thoroughly researched, brilliant account of the worst accident in aviation history. The numerous strange events and odd configuration of incidences that ultimately led to the disaster unfold in such a way as to seem to beggar belief; yet, as we are reminded, this is most definitely a true story.

As a fan of Air Crash Investigation and its ilk, I was interested to read about an incident I had heard about, but knew none of the specifics. I quickly found that this short book, easily devoured in a matter of hours, could do much more than any televisual account of the accident. What OJ Modjeska presents, with great suspense, is a highly evocative rendering of what was a terrifying experience for the various players in the story – from the overburdened air traffic controllers, to the anxious pilots and copilots, and the unwitting passengers, many forced to make split second decisions which ultimately determined whether they would live or die.

The book's vivid, detailed imagery made me picture various scenarios with frightening clarity, and certainly reminded me of my own mortality. But at the same time, it also made me appreciate the human ability to overcome the greatest challenges life might throw at us.

I really look forward to reading more from OJ Modjeska!

Congratulations OJ Modjeska!

5.0 out of 5 stars

Review by Satya Lily

A well researched and accurate account, as well as a captivating read. Modjeska seamlessly weaves, historical facts, airplane jargon and technical information, background checks and personality reports on flight crews and passengers alike, into a narrative that creates suspense and hope even though as the reader you know the inevitable is about to happen.
Looking forward to reading more from this intelligent and talented writer. 

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