Book review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Friday, June 17, 2016 Permalink

The synopsis drew me to this book as I’d not heard of Noah Hawley before; although I now know better as he has a very impressive writing and television resume.

Of course, like most people I really don’t delight in reading about plane crashes, but was intrigued by the suspicion that starts to surround the accident’s heroic survivor.

And I was hooked immediately. Dinner plans were changed – I returned my defrosting chicken to the fridge and dined on chocolate Freddo Frogs instead – so I could remain in the bath reading. Which I did until I was done.

Book review: Before the Fall by Noah HawleyBefore the Fall
by Noah Hawley
Published by Hodder
on June 9th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1444779753, 9781444779752
Pages: 400

Down-on-his-luck artist Scott Burroughs would usually take the ferry back to New York from Martha's Vineyard, but he is unexpectedly offered a spare seat on the Bateman family's private jet. Then just minutes after take-off, the plane crashes into the ocean and of the eight passengers and three crew, only Scott and the Batemans' small son, JJ, are left alive.

The extraordinary nature of their survival, combined with the fact that David Bateman was CEO of a populist TV news channel, means that Scott will not be returning to anonymity. Along with the orphaned boy, he is engulfed by a maelstrom of speculation, which soon overtakes the official investigation into the tragedy.

Who else was on the plane? Was there a bomb, a missile? Who is Scott Burroughs?

The novel unfolds in a number of timeframes. I was a tad worried when I noted a section heading which included one of the character’s birth and death date…. I mentally groaned, thinking we were going to have to relive their entire life, but the chapters centered around those on the plane were really about events in the lead-up to the accident with the occasional anecdote about their early years where relevant.

The inclusion of the flashbacks allows us to get to know the plane’s passengers and crew and Hawley does a good job of weaving them in at just the right time, as the events ‘after the fall’ unfold.

We spend more time with Scott obviously, and Hawley’s created a wonderful character in the 47yr old painter. He’s an unlikely protagonist and not your typical hero by any means. And he happily admits to his foibles. We learn that – as a painter – when he realised he was only moderately talented he lost interest and went off the rails. Big time. And then there was an epiphany of sorts and he was reminded of a childhood inspiration. He cleaned up his act and started painting again.

A year into his self-imposed exile at Martha’s Vineyard Scott’s new work is starting to attract attention. He’s planning a trip to New York when he runs into a holidaying Maggie Bateman who invites him to join her family on their private plane. Of course we now know it was an invitation that changed his life. And not for the better.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Gus Franklin admires Scott and appreciates the way he fought to save himself and young JJ. But it’s Gus’s job to get to the bottom of the crash. He doesn’t believe Scott was involved but has to pick apart the lives on those on board. Bit by bit.

Of course there are complicating factors – Maggie’s wealthy TV Exec husband David had his share of enemies and a travelling friend was under investigation by the FBI and had reason to disappear.

The reaction of investigators and the media to the accident is eye-opening and rather depressing. It’s interesting however and offers something quite different to the usual disaster / whodunnit fodder, by combining the two in a very clever way.

My only negatives involved a few teensy loose ends and the inclusion of young Rachel Bateman’s kidnapping years before… the latter seeming kinda pointless, other than to add an additional focus of suspicion or perhaps explain David Bateman’s level of security.

I tore through this book. I started on the edge of my seat, and then I was intrigued. I had no answers.

We eventually learn what’s behind the accident and I can’t say more, but it’s unexpected and not particularly poetic – which I suspect is the moral of the story.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

Do you read ‘disaster’ books, or do they freak you out too much?

  • Makeesha Byl
    June 17, 2016

    Oh Deb, telling us that you cancelled dinner plans, and instead ate freddo frogs in the bath, to me gives this book 5 stars! Absolutely loved your review, thank you!

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2016

      Ha! My 5-star reviews are very few and far between…. Probably still less than ten or so EVER (though on Goodreads there are no half-stars so some of my 4.5s appear as 5s…) 😉

  • Stormi D Johnson
    June 17, 2016

    Heard good things about this one so far and I have it to read, so can’t wait to try it. 🙂

  • Rita @ View From My Books
    June 18, 2016

    Wow, great review! I have this book from Netgalley but mentally put it aside because I decided I wouldn’t enjoy the plot. But after reading your review, well, I think perhaps I should read it asap! Thanks for taking that long bath so you could finish the book, then talk about it 🙂

    • Debbish
      June 18, 2016

      I hadn’t been sure either Rita and deferred it a few times but – anal about my chronological sorting as I am – decided I should try it and I’m really glad I did.

  • Tea Time with Marce
    June 18, 2016

    I have this one available to me on Netflix but have been on the fence, reading your review I should go grab it while I can. You didn’t go dinner, lol 🙂 Have a great weekend.

    • Debbish
      June 18, 2016

      I know Marce… ‘forced’ to just eat chocolate for dinner. I really don’t know how I cope! 😉

  • Leona
    June 18, 2016

    This does sound rather thrilling! I remember the few books that had me changing my plans just so I could finish them 🙂

    • Debbish
      June 18, 2016

      Yes Leona… you gotta love those books you can’t put down!

  • Leona Woolfolk
    June 18, 2016

    This sounds thrilling! I remember the books that had me changing my plans just so I could finish them 🙂

  • Kooky Chic
    June 18, 2016

    The words ‘plane crash’ sent me into a cold sweat but I will be brave and have a read.

    • Debbish
      June 19, 2016

      Ah yes… that’s the sort of stuff which plants itself into my dreams as well, but not a lot of time is actually spent on the crash itself fortunately!

  • Karen B (@KissinBlueKaren)
    June 27, 2016

    You chimed in on the kidnapping and think you are right that it highlighted the bodyguards devotion. It also gave clues into the life of the children. I did a lot of reflecting on life’s meaning while reading this book. Sometimes things happen that are totally random, no matter what it looks like. Great review, again!

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