Sunday, August 20, 2017

Before the Fall: People Are a Mystery

If you've watched the TV show Fargo, you will understand why I was excited to hear that the show's creator, Noah Hawley, had a new novel out. Fargo is one of those TV shows that is scripted so elegantly that you are in awe of the writing even as you watch the stunning visuals play out on your television screen. So I was intrigued to see if Hawley's novel, Before the Fall, would be similarly well-written and thrilling. Boy did he deliver.

The novel is a mystery about a plane crash. We begin with a private jet going down off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, and what follows are flashbacks telling us about the lives of all the individuals on that plane as well as updates on the aftermath and the investigation. The first few chapters are the most vivid, cinematic prose you will have read in a while. As Hawley describes the crash and the actions of one of the survivors, you will hold your breath, feel the cold of the Antarctic seep into your bones and the panic thrum through your veins, and desperately turn the pages to discover what happens next.

The rest of the novel unfolds gradually, delving into deep character studies that would make any psychologist proud. Each character's strengths and flaws emerge with startling clarity, and as you go through the roster, it seems like absolutely everyone had a motive or a circumstance that could hint at foul play. As the investigation proceeds, warring factions debate whether the crash was due to mechanical failure or something more sinister, and as you hurtle towards the conclusion, you find yourself wondering if the result will be a Murder on the Orient Express-style denouement (I'm not going to explain that spoilerific comment, but you Agatha Christie fans will understand). However, the actual outcome is something far more sad and sinister than any of the hypotheticals the novel initially proposes.

Noah Hawley is a magnificent writer and he is well-versed in getting his audience to engage with his material, whether it is on screen or on the page. As you read Before the Fall, you cannot help but get invested in the futures of the various characters and try your best to outwit the FBI to guess what really happened on that plane. As each revelation comes to light, these people become more real, the situation becomes more bleak, and the novel becomes an ever-more accurate encapsulation of the current state of America. There are observations about politics, media, gender, wealth, art, and a host of other complicated topics; but first and foremost, this is a damn good mystery novel and it deserves your attention.

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