"Before the Fall" (Grand Central Publishing), by Noah Hawley
At first blush, "Before the Fall" appears to be on track to be a typical action-packed thriller wrapped around the horrific crash of a private jet. But author Noah Hawley soon veers his highly entertaining novel into an insightful look at families, revenge and media intrusion by delving deeply into each character's story.
Hawley invests the same care with a soupcon of dark humor into "Before the Fall" as he does on the TV series "Fargo," of which he is executive producer, writer and showrunner. Hawley, an Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody award-winning television producer and screenwriter, shows how each character came to be on the plane, laying the foundation for the tragic crash of the corporate jet that plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean about 16 minutes after it left Martha's Vineyard.
Only two people of the 11 onboard survive the crash: Scott Burroughs and 4-year-old JJ Bateman, who was with his wealthy family — media titan father David, mother Maggie and older sister Rachel. Scott would be the last person to call himself a hero — "a recovered alcoholic, a struggling artist who's never been able to keep a single lasting relationship." Yet somehow he manages to rescue JJ in the dark and, disoriented and with a dislocated shoulder, swim the many miles to shore.
The "miracle" rescue first labels Scott a hero before a shock journalist brands him an opportunist by putting a negative spin on every aspect of Scott's life. A federal investigator looks at terrorism, financial crimes and threats.
One victim was a Wall Street financier about to be indicted for money laundering. A couple of years earlier Rachel had been kidnapped, the abductor never found. The Batemans' armed Israeli bodyguard had a dubious past. David Bateman had many enemies because his 24-hour conservative news network was accused of manufacturing the news. The authorities and the media question how Scott, who barely knew anyone on the flight, finagled his way onto a private jet. And why would a well-maintained jet with an experienced crew suddenly crash?
Hawley's complete examination of each passenger, crew member, the investigators and surviving relatives works as intense character studies that complement his brisk storytelling. These aren't statistics in a tragedy, but believable people. These include a sociopath driven by obsession and jealousy, an investigator fueled by facts and an unethical journalist whose ambition destroys others.
The plane crash is only the beginning in the superb and cleverly constructed "Before the Fall," which should become one of the summer's hottest sellers.