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beforethefallcover

Whenever I see a blurb that says something like “…THE thriller to read in 2016!!” my reaction is something along the lines of “hmmm, I’ll be the judge of that.” So I was a bit of a skeptic going in to this one. Also, a bit of curiosity about whether this might come across as one of those novels that you just KNOW was written with a film or TV adaptation in mind, as the author has a successful history as a screenwriter and is currently show runner for the TV series Fargo. You know how some novels just fall apart at the end, with the obvious geared for the screen ending? Clearly, this one had challenges from me going in.

The basic plot is that on a Sunday evening at the end of August, a bunch of rich people plus a less-than-successful painter (for a total of 11 individuals) hop on a fancy private jet for a quick flight from Martha’s Vineyard to New York. A famous TV producer/media mogul, who weekends on the island in summer while his wife and their son and daughter have spent the entire month of August there, chartered the jet. It was during that month that the wife became friendly with the painter, Scott Burroughs, whose work she admired, so she offered to let him hop a ride on their flight rather than endure the ferry ride into the city on a Sunday night. Other passengers include their bodyguard and a Wall Street bigwig and his wife (friends/investors who are well-known to the producer and his wife), who we will learn are on the cusp of a financial meltdown. The crew includes a career pilot, a female flight attendant, and a copilot who steps in at the last minute as a replacement for the originally scheduled copilot, who is reported as having taken sick.

Sixteen minutes into the flight, the plane and its contents disappear into the Atlantic Ocean, and the only survivors are Scott and the media mogul’s 4-year old son, who clings to Scott’s back as they endure an unbelievably challenging swim to safety.

As it turns out, the boy stands to inherit an enormous fortune, and the mysterious crash suddenly looks like a conspiracy. Why else would so many influential people have died? As the mystery around the financial shenanigans of the Wall Street bigwig begin to be revealed, a huge media frenzy unfolds, spurred on by Fox-ish personalities whose outrage and accusations threaten to swallow Scott whole.

Questions of fate, chance and destiny run rampant through the book, and I enjoyed the thought-provoking way the events of the story were presented: “Everyone has their path. The choices they’ve made. How any two people end up in the same place at the same time is a mystery. You get on an elevator with a dozen strangers. You ride a bus, wait in line for the bathroom. It happens. To try to predict the places we’ll go and the people we’ll meet would be pointless.” Scott has lots of time to ponder the events that led him to this, and he tries to make sense of it all, as he consider “it is the job of the human brain to assemble all the input of our world—sights, sounds, smells—into a coherent narrative. This is what memory is, a carefully calibrated story that w make up about our past.”

The relationship between Scott and the boy whose life he saved is a key piece of the story, and as Scott turns the boy over to his aunt and uncle, he things it is “one of those critical junctures in life when you’re supposed to say something or do something, but you don’t know what. Only later does it hit you : later, the thing you should have said will be as clear as day, but right now it’s just a nagging feeling, a clenched jaw and low nausea.”

Two other themes are the role of journalism/entertainment in the media and the nature of art itself. Scott ponders the media circus that surrounds and considers how it might have been covered in the days of Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Woodward and Bernstein. The question becomes one of information versus entertainment. In looking at the nature of art, Scott considers that “to be an artist is to live at once in the world and apart from it. Where an engineer sees form and function, an artist sees meaning. A toaster, to the engineer, is an array of mechanical and electrical components that work together to apply heat to bread, creating toast.To the artist, a toaster is everything else. It is a comfort creation machine, one of many mechanical boxes in a dwelling that create the illusion of home.”

There is plenty of suspense, and I was eager to discover the reason for the crash, how Scott fit in to the picture, and how his relationship with the boy he had rescued would resolve. Too many spoiler possibilities, so I will just say I give it 5 stars: it held my interest, it made me think, and it made me care. I appreciate getting an advance copy of this in exchange for my honest review.

 

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