September 11, 1995 12:00 PM

by John J. Nance

Reading a thriller just for the prose style is akin to going to England just for the food. The plot’s the thing, and Nance, a pilot with Alaska Airlines and an aviation consultant for the ABC network, lets fly with a winner. When an American professor becomes seriously ill aboard a 747 bound for New York City from Frankfurt, the first diagnosis is a coronary. It turns out, however, that he may have been stricken with a deadly virus while on a trip to Bavaria. All who are exposed will die.

Consequently, no country will let the plane and its nearly 250 passengers land, certainly not after the professor dies. And this leaves pilot James Holland up in the air, you might say.

Meanwhile, on the ground Jonathan Roth, the fiercely ambitious CIA deputy director, is plotting to make the most effective use of the seemingly doomed passengers. The flight’s sole friend on terra firma is CIA epidemiologist Rusty Sanders, who has his doubts about the nature of the virus—and about the nature of Roth.

Admittedly, Nance, who has written three previous novels, treats a number of minor characters like so much excess baggage; they’re introduced, then never heard from again. He’s at least as careless with his words. “All his career,” he writes, “Holland had envied those few pilots who could seem to put their troubles on a shelf in some mental closet.” But Nance keeps the action moving at Concorde speed—and he saves two of the cleverer twists for the last few pages. It’s a first-class ride. (Doubleday, $23.50)

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