Cover image of "Before the Fall," a novel about a plane crash

Eleven people — eight passengers and three crew members — board a private jet on Martha’s Vineyard for the half-hour flight to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, 12 miles from midtown Manhattan. Eighteen minutes after takeoff the plane falls into the Atlantic, killing nine of the eleven. The two survivors are a failed, middle-age painter who is a recovering alcoholic, and a four-year-old boy. They survive only because the painter is a former champion swimmer and manages with a supreme effort of will to swim to the Long Island shore, carrying the boy with him.

Noah Hawley’s superbly suspenseful thriller, Before the Fall, explores the lives of all eleven people on the plane in the time before the crash and follows the painter and the young boy in the weeks afterward, as their changed lives become entangled with the boy’s aunt and uncle, investigators from the NTSB and the FBI, the painter’s friends, and the news media. It’s a gripping story, a tale that is hard to put down.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley ★★★★★

Why did the plane crash?

The truth about the crash emerges only after we have been drawn into the most intimate details of the eleven people on board. Hawley’s skill in delineating each of the characters in a distinctive and credible way is impressive — from the chaotic thinking of the painter to the deepest fears of the young flight attendant to the megalomaniacal thoughts of an over-the-top TV news personality. Along the way, we learn how the investigation of the crash is conducted, step by step, until the truth is, at last, at hand.

A Bill O’Reilly lookalike

One of the passengers is the multimillionaire founder and chief executive of an upstart cable TV news network with a striking resemblance to Fox News. The television commentator who emerges as a principal character in this story is a fictional rendering, perhaps slightly exaggerated, of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, a bully with respect only for his own opinions. The central conflict in Before the Fall arises between the commentator and the painter, and it is fascinating to behold.

About the author

Noah Hawley has won major awards for his screenwriting for film and television. As best I can tell from the reviews, most of that work has been judged to be mediocre. Before the Fall, his fifth novel, is definitely a cut above that.

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