Posted by: Jeanie F | July 14, 2017

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


As summer gets into full swing, books that focus on plot begin to look more attractive than books that make me think too hard. Nearing the end of  The Nix, I found myself in the Portland Airport looking for something to read on the plane. I knew I had a couple of hours in flight, and I also knew I wasn’t going to want to concentrate too much. It was Janet Maslin’s blurb on the cover – “Mesmerizing . . . one of the year’s best suspense novels” – that got me. I generally trust Maslin, and “mesmerizing” was just what I needed to pass the time in a middle seat of Alaska Air’s coach section.

The story begins with a small group of people boarding a private plane to travel from Martha’s Vineyard back to New York City after a summer vacation. There’s a Wall Street executive and his family – David (Dad), Maggie (Mom), Rachel (daughter), and J.J. (four-year old son) – the Batemans, a couple that has asked to join them, and Scott Burroughs, an artist that Maggie has invited along. There are tensions in these relationships that we discover as they board the plane. There is also a small flight crew.

This isn’t exactly a spoiler, since we know about this event very early on, but if you want to know NOTHING about the plot, skip this paragraph. Mid-flight something happens – and it isn’t until we reach the end that we know exactly what that was – and the plane crashes. The only survivors are J.J. Bateman and Scott Burroughs.

The suspense that keeps this light, but entertaining, novel moving is (1) the fate of the survivors, and (2) the skillful way that Hawley parcels out details – past and present – to keep us wondering what really happened on board that plane. Elements of the lives of the main players (hence the title, Before the Fall) are given to us bit by bit and expose a variety of situations that makes more than one character a likely cause of the accident.

While Maslin may have laid it on a little thick in calling the book mesmerizing, it had enough human-interest mixed with tension and suspense to make it a great summer read. It is an excellent beach – or airplane – book for anyone looking for good escapist entertainment (or squeezed into a middle seat).

Grade: B


  1. If you are looking for a good summertime book, I recommend Celine by Peter Heller, the author of The Painter. It was such a pleasure to read. I loved the characters and the settings. He is the best writer no one has ever heard of.

    • Thanks, Roberta! Your recommendation of The Painter was a good one. I’ll look this one up!

  2. Thanks, Jeanie. This does sound like a good candidate for some reading! I’ll put it on my list.

    • 👍 Let me know what you think!

  3. You are brave to read about an airplane crash while flying, but it does sound like a book worth looking for – thanks.

    • Haha – that thought DID occur to me after I boarded! 😊

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