A private plane crashes sixteen minutes after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard. Aboard are eleven people. The Bateman family of four (David, Maggie, nine-year old Rachel and four-year old JJ) and their security guard Gil Baruch, Ben and Sarah Kipling, a couple who are friends of the family, Scott Burroughs, an artist who is aboard only by chance, and a flight crew of three.
Was the crash a tragic accident, or something more sinister?
Only the artist and the four-year old son of the plane’s owners survive. And this only due to the quick thinking and expert swimming skills of the artist, Scott Burroughs. He swam over eight miles in rough seas with a dislocated shoulder and a small boy on his back. A hero, some would say…
The novel quickly delves into events that took place “Before the Fall” – or crash. Chapters are devoted to individual members of the planes’ passengers in the time immediately leading up to the crash in an attempt for the reader to discern the cause of the tragedy.
An official investigation into the crash is being led by NTSB investigator Gus Franklin and the FBI. The SEC is also involved due to the fact that Ben Kipling had been due to be indicted the day following the crash.
Every novel needs a ‘bad guy’ and in this one it was Bill Cunningham. He worked for David Bateman, a media mogul, and was the on-air face of the television news at his station. A suspender-wearing news anchor who just happens to be the godfather of the surviving boy, JJ Bateman.
“Tragedy is drama you can’t bear to relive”.
Beautifully written, this novel explores the vagaries of fate and of memory. It also expounds on how wealth corrupts – both the attainment of wealth and the sudden acquisition of it. It discusses journalistic integrity and how modern technology and the media can be both a help and a hindrance when dealing with the more human side of tragic events. It philosophizes upon the certainty of death, the arrogance of money, and the subjectivity of truth.
Although I enjoyed the flow of the language and writing, in my humble opinion there were too many characters. A reader has to identify with a protagonist and since most characters were given equal space, there didn’t seem to be one. I found myself wanted to skim through the extraneous detail of some of the characters – something I seldom if ever do.
Scott Burroughs was my favorite, and I found myself reading just to see what part he played in events, if any. A recovering alcoholic, Scott has reinvented his career and has formed a strong bond with the little boy he saved.
I was also interested in JJ’s aunt who has been tasked as his caregiver and trustee of his multi-million dollar inheritance.
Though I can understand its appeal, this book took me longer than usual to read. I just wasn’t invested in it enough I guess.
If you hear hoofbeats, think horses NOT zebras. In other words, look for the simplest, most common answer first. I was thinking of this saying the entire time I read this novel.
Noah Hawley is an American film and television producer, screenwriter, composer, and author. He wrote and produced the television series Bones (2005-present) and also created The Unusuals (2009) and My Generation (2010). Hawley also wrote the screenplay for the film Lies and Alibis (2006) starring Steve Coogan and Rebecca Romijn.
Noah is the author of five novels including A Conspiracy of Tall Men, Other People’s Weddings , The Punch, and The Good Father.
“Before the fall” is Noah Hawley’s fifth novel.