Review – Before the Fall – Noah Hawley

Disclosure: An advance copy of this book was received from Netgalley, in return for an honest review.

Being my first official BookSwag review, I really wanted to love this novel, the latest from award winning creator of the TV show Fargo, Noah Hawley.

Unfortunately I just couldn’t do it (and this seems a fairly unpopular view, considering the mounting pile of rave reviews!).

before the fall

From Goodreads:

“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-including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot-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.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to like about this book. There were moments in the first scenes that had me welling up, but unfortunately, there were also moments as the book progressed that had me close to ditching my e-reader across the room.

What Hawley is good at is the episodic, suspenseful style of television drama screenwriting. The narrative is full of possibility, with red herrings, storylines and characters that meander through the novel, leaving you wondering how they will all tie together in the end. The action scenes are the strongest, and Hawley’s writing is at its peak early on, during the crash and the ensuing struggle for survival. By the end of the book I had several theories about why and how the plane had crashed, all of which seemed equally plausible. It did keep me guessing right up until the last pages, but the final resolution was still somewhat predictable and pedestrian after such a build up, and there were many other questions left unanswered.

Before the Fall also puts itself forward as a commentary on modern media, capitalism and corruption, but falls short on this front too. It lacks the fully formed characters and intricate prose of true literary fiction (yes, I’m a book snob), and some of the analogies and metaphors made me snicker, re-reading them several times for the ‘wtf?’ factor. I’m also hoping it might go through a final edit before printing, because no novel should contain the word ‘artisanal’ so many times.

In short, it’s a ripper of a premise, with great potential, but poorly executed. I will also add that mystery/thriller/suspense/crime is not my favourite genre, so it was going to take some first class prose to impress me with this one. In the end, I’m giving it:

2.5 out of 5.

Before the Fall is due for publication 31st May, by Hachette Australia.

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