Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

The Blurb On The Back:

Eleven people get on a private plane that crashes into the ocean soon after take off.

There are two survivors: a young boy, and the man who swims them both back to land.

He is a hero.

But surely it can’t be that simple. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Scott Burroughs is an artist and recovering alcoholic who’s been working in Martha’s Vineyard on a set of paintings that he hopes will finally launch his career.  When he meets Maggie Bateman, the wife of David (the rich and powerful head of a cable news channel) in the market square, she offers him a lift to a meeting he has with a New York gallery owner on David’s private jet.

Scott finds himself on a plane with Maggie, David and their two children, 4-year-old JJ and 9-year-old Rachel, their bodyguard Gil, and Ben and Sarah Kipling (wealthy friends of the Batemans), pilots James Melody and Charlie Busch and flight attendant Emma Lightner.

16 minutes after take off the plane crashes into the sea.  Scott and JJ are the only survivors.  The media laud him as a hero but as air crash investigators and the FBI investigate the crash and the other passengers, suspicions arise about Scott’s story and just how he managed to survive …

Noah Hawley’s literary thriller is an entertaining but unsubtle look at the role of the media (particularly conservative media) in times of tragedy and how it’s quick to cast those caught up in it as either hero or villain but while I kept turning the pages, the broad brush characters and open ending mean that it’s not as great as it wants to be.

Scott is an interesting character – a man who’s been forced to face his failings and is trying to rebuild his life only to find himself having to step up after a catastrophe.  I enjoyed his relationship with JJ more than the budding romance with JJ’s aunt Eleanor (who I found under-drawn) or lost little rich girl Layla.  However I didn’t believe in his naivety when it came to dealing with the media and the finale with Bill Milligan (a caricature of every Fox News pundit) lacks punch or credibility.

Hawley neatly intertwines the backstories of each of the passengers to create red herrings and explanations but I wished that some of those backstories had more of a resolution while others (notably a kidnap plot involving one of the characters) doesn’t really serve any purpose.

Ultimately it’s smoothly written novel and it kept my attention but it never really rises above the sum of its part to make for the great, sophisticated read that it seems to want to be.

BEFORE THE FALL was released in the United Kingdom on 6th April 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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