Title: Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Genre: Fiction (mystery)
Release Date: 31st May, 2016
“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 backstories 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.” (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)
One of my favourite TV shows from recent years would have to be Fargo. It’s one of those shows that’s so clever and dark and funny, that it makes me wish I could write like that. Noah Hawley is the writer and creator of the small screen adaptation of the original Coen brothers film, so when I saw a novel pop up on NetGalley with his name on it, I knew I had to have it. Thankfully I wasn’t left disappointed. Although it started to drag on a little towards the end, Before the Fall was pretty much everything I’d hoped it would be: a good mystery that goes beyond asking ‘whodunit?’, while telling a story through some vividly written characters.
And it’s definitely the characters who are the standout in Before the Fall. While the focal point of the novel is the plane crash that takes place in the opening chapters, in order to gain more information about the crash, we need to know more about the people who were on board the plane; both the passengers and the crew. So the story moves back and forth between the present and the past. In the present, we see the two survivors and those around them dealing with the aftermath of the crash, while in the past we look at the lives of those who lived and perished, and those who are attempting to figure out exactly what happened, just as the reader is.
Many of the chapters focusing on individual characters read like in-depth character studies; as though they were written to enable an actor to get to know the role he or she will be playing, which is unsurprising knowing that Hawley is a screenwriter. I really liked how this was done, as I felt like I knew the characters on an intimate level. Learning what motivates the characters means that the reader can evaluate them and decide whether they have anything to do with the crash. I found myself second-guessing Scott Burroughs quite a bit; this is probably because we learn more about him than anyone else, but he is also very secretive and it seems like what you learn about him will never be everything you need to know.
The media is painted in a less than flattering light in the novel, but also a fairly accurate one I think. The 24 hour news cycle seems less these days to be about informing people than it is about gaining ratings, and I’m sure there are many media outlets who wouldn’t let ethics or the truth get in the way of a good story. It was also interesting to look at how the media treats victims and the language that is used when reporting a story. Long story short, it’s never long before the media digs something up about a victim and, whether it’s related to the incident or not, the information is used to paint a victim in a different light and change public perception of them.
The only negative for me was that I found myself wishing that would hurry up a little bit as I got closer to the end of the novel. While the trip to the final pages was an enjoyable one, it was also a long one, and there were a few things that could have been cut, or at least trimmed a bit, without it impacting on the narrative. But overall I was really impressed with the book. It got me thinking about how people deal with tragedy, how outsiders view that tragedy, and the roles that people perform every day. I don’t think it’s a book about a plane crash – I think it’s a book about people.