Noah Hawley has won multiple awards as the creator of the TV series, Fargo. He also worked as a writer on Bones and has written several novels. His newest novel is the thriller, Before The Fall.
There are a number of interesting threads running through Before The Fall that pulled at me; however, two stood out for me: 1), how can small seemingly inconsequential decisions have such huge ramifications; and 2), what’s it really like for a very private person to be suddenly thrust into the spotlight? Before The Fall grabbed me and would not let go – let’s see if it’s a novel you’ll want to read?
Scott Burroughs lives a fairly reclusive life as an artist on Martha’s Vineyard. Life hasn’t been easy for him and he’s buried himself in his painting in an attempt to reconcile himself to tragedies that have affected his life and his well being. Maggie Bateman, a Manhattan socialite, loves his work and offers him a ride to the city on her husband’s chartered plane. Scott is torn about whether to accept or not, and actually doesn’t decide until the last minute. In fact, the plane almost leaves without him.
In addition to Maggie and Scott, other passengers on the plane include Maggie’s two children (9 year old Rachel and 4 year old JJ) and her multi-millionaire husband, David Bateman. David founded and runs an internationally renowned TV news channel. In addition to these 5 passengers are a couple the Batemans know, the Kiplings, and their two children. Rounding out the passenger list is David’s top-notch security guard, Gil, a necessary evil for someone in David’s position and a man who’s very good at his job.
It’s a short flight back to the city on a slightly foggy summer evening, and no one expects what happens only 18 minutes into the flight.
Scott wakes up to find himself in the cold water, wondering how he got there. Everything is quiet around him except for a small child crying, so he swims in that direction. It’s JJ Bateman. Hearing nothing else around them, Scott pulls JJ onto his back, talking softly to him to comfort him, and tries desperately to orient himself. Then he begins swimming doggedly for what he hopes is land. All he can think about is his childhood hero, Jack La Lanne, who he saw swim the San Francisco Bay while towing a barge. Jack inspired him to train as a swimmer. If Scott ever needed that training, it’s now. Who’d have thought Jack La Lanne might save his life one day. All Scott will allow himself to think about is reaching land.
And miraculously he does reach land, with JJ still alive, despite some close encounters along the way. In the hospital, Scott can’t help the NTSB or FBI much because he has huge blank spots in his memory. He’s shocked when he learns that he and JJ are the only survivors, and he feels protective toward the small boy. JJ is mute from the trauma and will only respond to Scott.
And then the media descends. Scott is labeled a hero for the most part…he and JJ are walking miracles and the media wants to put Scott on a very brightly lit pedestal, the last thing he wants. One obnoxious reporter on David Bateman’s network, Bill Cunningham, decides that Scott is the ultimate villain instead of a hero and goes after him with both barrels. Cunningham has his own hidden nasty agenda for doing that, an agenda I won’t disclose to avoid spoilers. (If you’re looking for someone to dislike, Cunningham will happily fill the bill.)
How Scott and JJ individually deal with the consequences of what happened because of that fateful flight, what the NTSB discovers, and how Scott’s seemingly minor decision affects his life are things you’ll have to read the novel to discover. I’m trying not to give too much away even though I’m itching to tell you what happens…it is one hell of a roller coaster ride!
Scott is a flawed everyman, someone who’s trying valiantly to pick up the pieces of his life. And just when he thinks he’s got his life back on track, the universe pulls the rug out from under him. He is ill-equipped to deal with a media spotlight as bright as the one shining on him, a spotlight that can turn ugly in a second. He’s also ill-equipped to deal with FBI agents who look for ulterior motives in everything he’s ever done, and are perfectly happy to paint him as a villain if it serves their purposes and closes the case. And, last but not least, he feels the duty people often feel who save someone else’s life – the duty to protect JJ at all costs. That bond makes for a wonderful read all by itself.
Before The Fall is a puzzle with pieces scattered to the winds. Noah Hawley has done an excellent job of showing us pieces only as Scott’s trauma-induced amnesia pops them into view. Doing that puts us in his shoes, showing us just how frustrating it is to not know what’s happened and how you got where you are. As a media insider, Mr. Hawley also does an excellent job of showing us the complexities of what drives a media empire behind the scenes – the good, the bad, and the oh-so-ugly if it falls into the hands of the unscrupulous. And then there’s the money and instant fame in the form of the vast fortune that’s now in the hands of a four-year-old, and what that does to the people around him, and how Scott’s instant fame could be the thing that makes or breaks him. I’m recommending this one for people who like solving complicated puzzles and seeing how human behavior plays out in extreme circumstances. Enjoy!
Can’t wait to read it? Before The Fall is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Click on the link below to get it to read immediately!
I’d love to get your comments on Before The Fall, Noah Hawley and/or his other novels, and/or this review.