BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley

1e3c0cb68882781b9a0f6a7067000e6bBefore The Fall by Noah Hawley was one of the hot books pushed at BEA last spring. (It was even featured on the BEA lanyard strings, which isn’t cheap.) Hawley is best known for creating and writing the FX series Fargo, but I know him from an earlier novel he wrote called The Good Father. I don’t think it got a lot of attention when it came out, but I really liked it and was intrigued when I came across Before The Fall.

Before The Fall is a thriller/mystery. A private plane takes off on a Sunday night from Martha’s Vineyard, headed to New York. The plane was chartered by a very wealthy family, the Batemans, who have two children aged 9 and 4. The Batemans invited another couple to fly back with them – a banker and his wife – and at the last minute an artist shows up for the ride, having been invited earlier that day by Mrs. Bateman. There are also three pilot/crew members and the Batemans’ bodyguard.

Eighteen minutes after the plane takes off, it crashes into the Atlantic. The only two survivors of the crash are the artist and the Bateman’s four year-old boy.

So what happened? Did the plane malfunction? Was it pilot error? Did someone purposely take the plane down? As the story teases out, we learn that both David Bateman and his banker friend had secrets to hide – did their shady business dealings have anything to do with it? And is the artist who he claims to be? What about the crew? Hawley follows each of these threads, flashing back in time to flesh out these characters’ stories, until he finally reveals what caused the fatal crash.

Overall: meh. Before The Fall kept my attention, and for that alone it wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the character development and found the backstories of these doomed passengers pretty interesting. But I had a bunch of problems with the book too. First, the character of the artist bothered me. He did and said things that made no sense and seemed so bizarre to me, yet no one else appeared to notice. Second, this book reads like a screenplay (for which the movie rights have probably already been sold, right?), which I’d forgive Hawley for if I hadn’t read The Good Father, which didn’t at all read like a screenplay. I expected more.

There are also little inconsistencies and impossibilities throughout the book that I found distracting. The plane took off after 10 on a Sunday night, and a Red Sox game was on, which is pretty unlikely unless it was in extra innings (it wasn’t). At one point the artist gave the boy a pen that he had had since he was a little boy, which made no sense because the artist swam to shore after the crash and his bag was not recovered, nor had he returned home since the accident. People talked on landline phones with long stretchy cords (seriously?). Just sloppy.

The ending was underwhelming too. I can think of like 5 other more satisfying explanations for the plane crash.

I’m glad I read Before The Fall because I was curious about it, and it was an engrossing vacation read. But in the end it left me cold. Proceed at your own peril.




  • techeditor
    August 25, 2016 - 2:14 pm | Permalink

    “Meh”? You’re kidding! I just finished reading this book and, other than the fountain pen you mention, I strongly disagree with you. (I, by the way, am from the same generation as the person who owns the landline. I, too, own a landline in addition to an iPhone.)

    All the reviews I have read of BEFORE THE FALL disagree with you, too, some going so far as to say that it’s the best mystery/thriller of 2016. It is. As a matter of fact, BEFORE THE FALL is the best mystery/thriller in recent years. No kidding. GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, the 2015 books that so many other mysteries/thrillers since then have been compared to, don’t hold a candle to BEFORE THE FALL. That is, BEFORE THE FALL is much better than those earlier books, much more literate and unputdownable at the same time.

    A reviewer on, although she named this book a “Bets On Pick,” said that if she had edited BEFORE THE FALL, she would have cut more. I disagree. I didn’t want the book to end, so the more the author told me about the characters, the better.

    NOTE: The 24-hour cable TV news station is obviously meant to be Fox News, Unlike Fox News, though, the fictional TV station, per policy, makes (rather than just reports) news. And one of the news show hosts, who ”reports” recorded (bugged) telephone conversations of one of the survivors, is NOT, I’m sure, meant to be Bill O’Reilly.

  • gayle
    August 25, 2016 - 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I am glad you liked the book so much. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but in retrospect it just seemed silly. The ending was particularly implausible to me.

    I have no issue with a landline, but most people have cordless phones. The stretchy cord seemed out of place.

    I liked Gone Girl much more than Before The Fall, fwiw.

  • Laura
    August 25, 2016 - 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading it but was not thrilled with the ending, I can see your point. However, in thinking about it since ( and I have) I kind of liked the idea of how seem things seem important and they’re not and the whole red herring feel about it. I am a fan of Fargo and they seem to do that. The artist’s weirdness didn’t bother me. Hawley’s The Punch was the only other book I read by him and I liked it a lot.

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