If the name Noah Hawley rings a bell, it could be because he’s the Emmy and Golden Globe winning creator of Fargo. But soon you’ll remember his name because he’s the author of the thrilling new novel Before the Fall.

This is strong literary writing, with earnest, realistic characters and a main protagonist whose story you’ll want to follow to its conclusion. Scott Burroughs is a painter who is afraid his prime time is in the his past, languishing on a bed of memories he can’t shake. He’s recently developed a breakthrough in his paintings, and needs to leave his Martha’s Vineyard home for appointments in New York to set up shows.

He’s befriended Maggie Bateman, whose husband, David, is a media mogul. She invites him aboard their private jet to fly to NY. What could be more enticing? In a quirk of fate, Scott almost doesn’t take the plane, but then he decides to go and boards in time for the flight. Also on board are the Bateman’s son and daughter, and a second multi-milliionaire, Wall Street banker Ben Kipling. Staff is a security man, the pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant.

Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Scott and JJ, the Bateman’s four-year-old son are the only survivors, and only do so through a heroic swim of Scott’s that saves their lives. Its description alone is worth the price of the book.

What happens next involves intense media speculation and scrutiny, combined with the sudden interest of too many acronyms for Scott: FBI, NTSB, even Homeland Security all want to know what caused the crash. Could it have been an act of terrorism? Maybe Kipling was involved in money laundering. There are too many maybes and too many lives involved, and each must be thoroughly investigated, including if ISIS was involved.

Hawley introduces each character in rotation, with Scott’s story the constant, moving the story forward as the investigation progresses. He will meet Eleanor, Maggie’s married sister, now entrusted with the care of her young nephew, who is suddenly mute at times except to Scott. He will turn to a friend for a safe haven and find the media blows up his stay at her apartment into an affair. Most of all, he will wonder where his own future lies.

This is accomplished, nuanced writing, dropping into each character’s life and where they came from, even the dead victims. We see how they lived before the crash and for others, how they deal with what’s happened, depending on their role in the story. It’s a different and fascinating approach, and Hawley’s prose will draw you in and keep you flipping pages to find out what really happened to that jet and where Scott’s future lies. Highly recommended.

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