The debut novel from English author Catherine Sampson, Falling Off Air is the story of Robin Ballantyne, a former award-winning documentary maker who now spends her time taking care of her young twins, Hannah and William. After being abandoned by her lover Adam, whom she worked with and the father of her children, Robin temporarily gives up her career to play full-time mom. Her insular world is rocked, however, when she sees her neighbor, a stranger to her, plunge from her upstairs window to her death on the street below.
After checking the woman for a pulse and calling the police, Robin tries to return to her normal life. Unfortunately, her dead neighbor turns out to be the famous activist Paula Carmichael, and a media storm ensues. It doesn’t help that the police investigator on the scene, D.C.I. Finney, begins to suspect that Robin may have something to do with Paula’s death and doesn’t believe that the two were strangers. The situation goes from bad to much, much worse when Robin’s ex-lover Adam turns up dead, en route to her house and run down by her car.
Now a true suspect, Robin struggles to defend herself to the media and to friends and to try to discover who really killed Paula and Adam. With the help of her lawyer mother, her friends in the media world and sometimes even Finney himself, Robin goes on a quest to dig up Paula’s past, putting herself in danger in the process.
As far as first novels go, Falling Off Air is decent if a bit lackluster. While the plot works in terms of tension, believability and a surprise ending, it never really turns into a "page-turner," and you probably will not find yourself losing sleep while trying to finish it. In addition, the characters never really stand out. If an author is creating a series with a recurring character (as Sampson is trying to do with Robin Ballantyne), they’d better make sure that character shines in the first novel, making the readers eager to read more about her life and antics. Unfortunately, while Robin is not unlikeable, she is not really likeable either and never develops a distinct personality of her own. Nor do any of the supporting characters ever define themselves, giving the reader little reason to revisit any of them in a future novel.
Add to this a few unbelievable occurrences (such as Robin paying a very expensive babysitter time and a half to watch her children when she has no source of income and no savings) and you’ve got a mediocre first mystery that may or may not lead readers to pick up the second novel in her Robin Ballantyne series.