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One of 2016’s most-recommended books lives up to the hype

Christopher Walker, Editor - in - Chief

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Noah Hawley’s mystery book, “Before the Fall,” is a rare example of a new and exciting take on the typically predictable, paint-by-number, John-Grisham-copycat snooze of a mystery/whodunit novel.  

“Before the Fall” chronicles the lives of passengers onboard the ill-fated private plane of a conservative media billionaire, telling the story of each passenger’s life right until the moment the plane takes off.

Although we are not witness to the actual events during the flight, the plane goes down in the middle of the ocean, leaving only two survivors: a failed artist who was having an affair with the billionaire’s wife and a young boy.

Upon further research into the crash, it’s determined there was no mechanical failure, and human interference must have been the culprit. Due to the high-profile status of the billionaire on board, the media has a field day with conspiracy theories and loose ends.

Slowly and surely over the course of the novel, the characters’ lives are revealed to be intertwined in ways the reader (and the novel’s public) never realized possible.

“Before the Fall” is a page-turner, and the characters Hawley presents are at once real and exaggerated, their personalities clashing with each other page by page.

The conservative media tycoon is an obvious fictional stand-in for Rupert Murdoch, and the right-wing empire he controls is a send-up of Fox News. The pervading themes of the novel deal with the media, the truth and the hazy relationship between the two.

Hawley uses “Before the Fall” to criticize the media on a variety of topics, including the media’s obsession to fill every waking moment of our lives with information, whether the information is true or not.

The primary mouthpiece for this theme is a character named Bill Cunningham, the crown jewel of the billionaire’s most popular talk show, an obvious stand-in for Bill O’Reilly. His mannerisms, speech diction, and described appearance all match the controversial talk-show host.

Another major theme of the novel is the dangerous habit of media to latch onto an incomplete story and paint a wildly incomplete picture. Hawley takes special care to mock right-wing media. Again, Bill Cunningham is used to illustrate this point, using his talk show to suit various conspiracy theories about what he believed happened with total impunity.

Do not mistake “Before the Fall” for a satirical work. The humor is lacking and the media’s reaction to the crash is not exaggerated enough to constitute satire. The novel’s events are a truthful reflection of a potential real-life event, not like the funhouse-mirror reflection of satire.

Noah Hawley’s prose is lean, mean, and to the point. Rarely is there a dull moment, and the novel flies by quickly. “Before the Fall’ is dark and deeply memorable – a shining example of quality work in the mystery genre.

 

The ending could be considered disappointing, but it’s the culmination of the nihilistic tone pervading every corner of the novel.

“Before the Fall” is a hell of a ride, and one would be hard pressed to find a better mystery novel these days.

 

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The student news site of the University of New Orleans
One of 2016’s most-recommended books lives up to the hype