One measure of any great thriller, I think, is its ability to keep you gripped and guessing until the very end. Or, in this case, until right “Before the Fall.”
Noah Hawley’s edgy and absorbing 2016 novel tells the story of a private plane full of rich passengers that crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and the media frenzy that follows. The tale is less concerned with what happens – revealed very early on – than why it happened and who is at fault.
It should come as no surprise, really, that Hawley is the master of tightly-woven plots full of intriguing characters. He is, after all, the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show “Fargo” and has written and produced other TV shows, plus penned the screenplay for the film “The Alibi.”
His latest page-turner, “Before the Fall,” not only twists its way along a mysterious and suspenseful path, both in time and place, it also touches on some big themes. These include the value of art, the power of positive thinking, and, perhaps my favorite, the dangers wrought by sloppy or pernicious journalists using the latest tragedy to make a buck and/or shape the “truth” (here, coincidentally I’m sure, holding a striking resemblance to those on a certain popular, American, right-wing cable “news” station).
I happened to be in Atlanta on July 27, 1996, when a retired police officer named Richard Jewell found a backpack with three pipe bombs at Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Summer Games. Jewell then risked his life helping evacuate bystanders from the park, only to be falsely accused of planting the bombs there himself. Eventually, he was exonerated by the FBI for a crime he didn’t commit, but not before local, national, and international media outlets shredded his life like a school of famished sharks in that water off Martha’s Vineyard, turning a rightful hero into a notorious villain.
“Before the Fall” provides a stark reminder of the damage powerful people can do to those less protected, especially when unleashed on an unwitting public. Plus, it’s a damn good read!