Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


Noah Hawley’s bestselling thriller Before the Fall throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at protagonist Scott Burroughs: a plane crash, a dark night stranded in icy Atlantic water, suspicion, gossip, a naked woman, demon rum, economic failure, aquatic sharks and paparazzi, their terra firma equivalent. Hawley, the show-runner for television’s Peabody-award winning Fargo, definitely puts Everyman Burroughs through his paces in Before the Fall, the novel the New York Times calls “one of the year’s best suspense novels, a mesmerizing, surprise-jammed mystery that works purely on its own, character-driven terms.”

The world of Before the Fall has more in common with JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy than Detective Molly Solverson. Before the Fall begins with the flight of a small, chartered air plane peopled by a wealthy television news executive, his wife and their two children; a couple friendly with them; two pilots and a flight attendant; and Burroughs, a sort of vagabond artist/painter of disasters, who arrives just in the nick of time to fly with them. Much to his later peril. Within a few pages (so I’m not giving anything away) the plane crashes and the remainder of Before the Fall deals with the aftermath of those who survived and those who are investigating to determine why.

art of swimming

Melchisedec Thevenot 1696


He surfaces, shouting. It is night. The sat water burns his eyes. Heat singes his lungs. There is no moon, just a diffusion of moonlight through the burly fog, wave caps churning midnight blue in front of him. Around him eerie orange flames lick the froth.

The water is on fire, he thinks, kicking away instinctively.

And then, after a moment of sock and disorientation:

The plane has crashed.

It’s a fascinating morality that takes hold of Burroughs and those who surround him: a television talk-show egomaniac, a wealthy art patron, a frustrated FBI agent, an unhappily married relative. The facts often get in the way of the characters’ opinions, all of which frustrate the most sympathetic character in the book, the poor slub from the NTSB who has to wade through all the propaganda and water-logged evidence field to try to find out what, or who, caused this calamity.

[W]hen the phone rang that night in late August, Gus did what he always did. He snapped to attention and put the engineer part of himself to work. But he also took the time to think about the victims — crew members and civilians, and worse: two small children with their whole lives ahead of them — and to reflect on the hardship and loss that would be endured by those they left behind.

First though, came the facts. A private jet — make? model? year built? service history? — had gone missing — departing airport? destination airport? last radio transmission? radar data? weather conditions? Other planes in the area had been contacted — any sightings? — as had other airports — has the flight been diverted or contacted another tower? But no one had seen or heard from the flight since the precise second that ATC at Teterboro lost track of it.

jack_lalanne_logoVia Gus Franklin, and beyond the NTSB examiner, in Before the Fall, Hawley separately reviews the past lives of each of the travelers on the plane, a game of Clue for the reader racing to find out what actually happened, and along the way, tossing fascinating tidbits historical tidbits about Jack Lalane, opinions about the current New York art scene and media, ruminations celebrity, fame, infamy, and booze. When written this way, the ending needs to be worth the race through the prose and I was slightly underwhelmed.

My prediction: your book club is going to want to read Before the Fall. It’s buzzy, quick, interesting even if the “twist” at the end isn’t quite as twisty as you might want.


Scott meets Maggie Bateman at the Farmers’ Market on Martha’s Vineyard. He goes there each weekend to have pastries and buy his vegetables. After that, Scott takes a recreational ocean swim and then cooks his dog some spaghetti and meatballs.

My menu would include some pastry, maybe a large cheese danish I could cut and serve as a dessert.

Farmers’ Market Green Beans

String and snap beans and cover with water to clean. Rinse the water around, then dump it and add more water to cover beans. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and pepper to taste and about 1.5 tablespoons olive oil. Simmer for one hour. After about an hour, add one-quarter of a large Vidalia onion, chopped, and several baby potatoes and cook until the potatoes are well-done and fall apart.

Spaghetti and Meatballs — I’ll substitute ground turkey

Serve with red wine and good bread.

MUSICbefore the fall

The Ocean, Led Zeppelin

Catch a Wave, The Beach Boys

Einstein on the Beach, The Counting Crows

Blue Ocean Floor, Justin Timberlake

How Deep is the Ocean, Ella Fitzgerald

Ocean, The Cure

The Ocean, U2

Ocean Deep, Cliff Richard

Moonlight Swim, Elvis Presley

Movie Cast: Noah Hawley is the Show Runner for Fargo. My pick is first, a Fargo alternative is second, below.

Scott Burroughs – Aaron Eckhardt/Patrick Wilson

David Bateman – George Clooney/Bob Odenkirk

Maggie Bateman — Margot Robbie/Rachel Keller

Gil Baruch — Russell Crowe/Brad Garrett

Ben Kipling — Seth Rogan/Oliver Platt

Sarah Kipling — Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Alison Tohlman

James Melody — Jon Hamm/Billy Bob Thornton

Emma Lightner — Julianne Hough/Cristin Milioti

Charlie Busch — James Marsden/Colin Hanks

Gus Franklin — Robert Downey, Jr./Ted Danson

Happy Reading!