Vivid, cinematic, Before the Fall, written by television producer, Noah Hawley, is no ordinary thriller. This is precisely the type of thriller I am itching to read, if I am to pick up one. With full character development, a tight plot and a narrative that keeps you reading, this novel has the reader gripped.
His fifth novel, Hawley sets the scene; Martha’s Vineyard, private plane, moneyed passengers boarding, a foggy night. You get it. If you, like I, was not aware that Mr Hawley is an acclaimed storyteller, you’ll get it by the time you hit the next chapter. He is currently the showrunner for Fargo, a television adaptation of the film, which has found itself with a Peabody Award. There are also plans in place for Mr Hawley to adapt Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for the cinema, so we certainly see a lot from him visually but his name is not so familiar in literary circles.
Artist Scott Burroughs would normally take the ferry back to New York from Martha’s Vineyard, but is unpredictably offered a seat on the Bateman family’s private jet. Sixteen minutes after take-off, the plane crashes into the ocean and of the eight passengers and three crew, only two, Scott and the Batemans’ four-year-old son, JJ, survive. The extraordinary determination of Burroughs to keep both him and JJ alive, combined with the fact that David Bateman was a big player in the world of TV news channels, ascertains his future, as he is no longer able to remain anonymous. Along with the orphaned boy, he is engulfed by a maelstrom of speculation, which soon overtakes the official investigation into the tragedy. However, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.
As the chapters drive towards their enthralling conclusion, weaving with ever-increasing suspense between the shocking aftermath of the crash and the intimate back-story of each of the passengers and crew members, Noah Hawley culminates a probing, thrilling novel of love, fame, wealth, art, entertainment and power, all of which is relevant to our current society. And it certainly comes of no surprise to learn of Hawley’s involvement with Fargo.
The book presents what would be a deviation on the classic whodunit, except for the egomaniacal Bill Cunningham, a talk show commentator who obsesses over the plane crash and exploits his boss’ demise. Sudden to pronounce: “What we’re talking about here is nothing less than an act of terrorism, if not by foreign nationals then by certain elements of the liberal media,” there is a clear sense of sensationalism with the accident, perhaps commentating on those in our day-to-day. The fact that right after the crash, Scott manages to swim to Montauk in total darkness, despite a dislocated shoulder, with four-year-old JJ in tow, makes him suspect. To worsen his situation, Scott’s hiding place to avoid being disparaged by the media belongs to a flighty left-wing heiress, which adds to the speculation.
As we turn the pages, desperate to reveal the cause of the crash, Hawley strikingly turns his book into an extended tease, with a foregone conclusion as we are introduced to the co-pilot. However, this does not stop you as the reader from racing through this tense thriller to reach that definite finale. A recommendation for sure.
Before the Fall was published in 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton.