Thursday, March 24, 2016

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

From the publisher: On a foggy summer night, eleven people - ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter - depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs - the painter - and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family. With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members, the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

I really enjoyed reading Before the Fall, not in a "I'll keep this on my shelf forever" kind of way but in a "what's going to happen next?" kind of way. The weaving of the narrative from multiple viewpoints was well done. The descriptions of the media circus surrounding the event is very believable. Every now and then a chapter is devoted to one of the disaster paintings Scott specializes in, and they really contribute to the sinister mood. Scott's portrayal as an average guy who has survived a disastrous plane crash as both a hero and a person under suspicion is very nicely done.

The author is not a subtle writer - "Bill dropped onto the sofa. He had the wingspan of a pterodactyl. He sat, as he always did, with his knees spread wide so you could see how big his balls were." (p. 65 of the advance reader copy) But he did a great job of keeping my interest, playing out details and hints that made me want to keep reading. Overall I like his way with words (“It turns out his shoulder is dislocated, not broken. The procedure to pop it back into place is an epic lightning strike of violence followed immediately by a cessation of pain so intense it’s as if the damage has been erased from his body retroactively.” (p. 41 of the advance reader copy )

In the end, my enjoyment of the book lay not so much with the mystery of why the plane crashed but in the backgrounds of the passengers and crew and in the accurate depiction of the insensitive ways the press these days treat both victim and hero in their search for sex and scandal, rather than just reporting the news. I highly recommend this as a vacation read, on a beach or on a plane (really), or to anyone who likes suspenseful, smart fiction. Also I love the cover.

I read an advance reader copy of Before the Fall. It is scheduled to be published on May 31. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in adult fiction and as an ebook.

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