Monday, April 8, 2019

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley
Published May 2016 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: bought my copy

Publisher’s Summary:
On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the back stories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage. Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Thoughts:
So, Hawley is an award-winning television producer and screenwriter. He was one of the writers on the show Fargo. The hubby and I thought the writing on that show was terrific so it would make sense that I'd enjoy a book written by the same author. That also explains why I can so easily see this book playing out on the small screen; it very much has the feel of a limited series television show. In Before The Fall, though, Hawley is taking advantage of the print medium to flesh out his characters and explore deeper ideas, to find the truth behind what caused the accident, behind his characters, and  behind the forces at play.

In a mystery novel, I feel like it's important to always be giving readers material that is propelling the book forward, even when we're getting those back stories. Occasionally here I felt like Hawley lost some of that forward momentum as he explored the past lives of his characters and the things that drive them. Some of that was, of course, to cast doubt on all of the cast. Like any good mystery, everyone here is suspect and there are plenty of motives to question. What's also suspect is the role the media plays in situations like plane crashes, the ways personalities can influence things to turn one way or another, and the way the various government entities work, or don't work, together.

Hawley has created some really interesting characters. Scott Burroughs is a character readers will want to rout for but will also question.  He's a guy who's squandered his life and his talents but seems finally to have found his path; he's the hero who saves a young boy but who struggles with his new found fame, not always making what appear to be the best choices. But too many of Hawley's characters also felt like caricatures to me - the over-the-top newscaster who has become so lost in his own persona that he can't see the truth for the story he wants to tell, the a-hole investigator who smirks his way through the book and the good guy investigator whose only flaw seems to be that he's too analytical, the ne'er do well brother-in-law of the media mogul who you can practically see rubbing his hands together in glee as he contemplates the riches he thinks he's come into. Truth be told, though, sometimes you really do want the bad guy to just be a bad guy - you really don't want to find a grain of pity in your heart for him and Hawley gave me just that with some of these characters.

Still, even though this book didn't work for me on all levels (I often felt like Hawley went to far afield in exploring some of his themes), I did enjoy it and raced to find out the truth about the crash.

On a side note, because I was struggling to put my thoughts about this book together, I browsed through some other reviews. Sometimes doing this helps, sometimes it just leaves me wondering what I missed. This time it left me wondering if the reviewer for The Guardian had actually read the book because he refers to one of the major characters by the wrong name and says that this character was on the plane, which he was not. It certainly made me question whether this happens in other reviews.


  1. I agree about being able to see Hawley's history on the screen in this book. I felt exactly the same way. I could almost see each scene blocked for a show. I also agree about some of the reviews. A lot of the professional ones just felt like they weren't for the same book. I enjoyed this one more than I expected though it definitely had some issues.

  2. This is a case where the lead-up was good but the end result was disappointing.

  3. That's terrible the Guardian reviewer didn't get the name right, yikes. I too thought this book was better at the beginning of the book than the 2nd half. Still that first crash scene & swim is hair-raising. Here is my review of it at: