If you’re looking for a book to read on the beach this summer, look no further than the newest release from Noah Hawley. He’s not just an author – he’s also a TV writer and producer. He’s even won Emmy awards for writing and it shows in his newest book, “Before the Fall.” It’s a mystery novel, weaving between past and present, innocence and guilt and life and death.
The book starts with a somewhat unlikely group of people boarding a private jet to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s been chartered by media mogul David Bateman, who started a conservative-leaning TV network (It’s a thinly veiled FOX News.) He’s joined by his wife and children, the family’s bodyguards, an investment banker and his wife and the flight crew. But the real odd duck is the last-minute addition of Scott Burroughs, a relatively unknown, down-on-his luck painter.
Sixteen minutes into the flight, the plane crashes into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott and the Batemans’ 4-year-old son, JJ. Scott swims for over 8 hours with a dislocated shoulder, hauling the boy on his back until he finds land.
The book is peppered with little coincidences that Hawley cleverly reveals without being too blunt. For instance, the men on board absentmindedly turn on a baseball game during their short flight. Early in the book, an investigator comments to Scott that a baseball player broke the record for the longest time at-bat. The batter deflected 22 pitches over 18 minutes. In fact, the flight departed when he took the plate, and seems to have crashed almost immediately after. It seems like an insignificant comment from the investigator to establish a rapport with Scott. But my mind was already jumping ahead – did one of the passengers plan to crash the plane, and get distracted by the record-breaking game? Anytime baseball was mentioned in the rest of the novel, even in the smallest way, my interest was piqued. Who was the baseball fan on board? But that’s only one of many breadcrumbs Hawley sprinkles throughout the novel.
Kidnappings, terrorism and journalistic ethics could all be the key to what happened on that flight. Could it have been crashed by the co-pilot, who switched shifts at the last minute to get close to the flight attendant? Or the investment banker who just found out he’ll be arrested for laundering money? And most of all - why did the media mogul’s wife, Maggie Bateman, invite Scott on the plane? In the days that follow, the media, especially the rabid TV network Mr. Bateman himself started, scramble to uncover – or sometimes, create - a gripping narrative for viewers.
But that doesn’t mean Hawley makes the story feel salacious. There are relationships that feel heartfelt and genuine – especially between Scott and the orphaned JJ, and between JJ and his aunt Eleanor. Eleanor is his newly appointed guardian. Her alcoholic husband is a little too interested in JJ’s massive inheritance. When diving deep into the characters’ pasts, Hawley seems to ask the reader, “When is a coincidence really a coincidence?”
When I’m traveling with my family this summer, I’m definitely going to recommend they pick up “Before the Fall” for an easy-to-read, but enthralling, story. I’ll probably warn them not to read it on the plane, though.
“Before the Fall” is written by Noah Hawley. It was released on May 31 by Grand Central Publishing. It was also named an Amazon Best Book for June 2016.
Our reviewer, Erin Cassidy Hendrick, is an associate producer at WPSU-FM.