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Before the Fall
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Archived VBC Selections > Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - VBC May 2018

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message 1: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
We're mixing it up this month with a thriller. Before the Fall swept the awards for Best Novel in 2017 with a Macavity, an Edgar and a ITW Thriller award.

This book centers around a horrible plane crash that leaves just two survivors.
From the synopsis:
Was it by chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something more sinister at work? A storm of media attention brings Scott fame that quickly morphs into notoriety and accusations, and he scrambles to salvage truth from the wreckage.



message 2: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I feel like I saw this book everywhere last year. So just to start off our discussion because I'm curious, had you heard about it or read it already? Or was it outside of your radar before now?

And: personally this sounds more like a suspense novel than a thriller. Any thoughts?


Virginia | 20 comments Like you, I saw this everywhere. I'm pleased we are reading this.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Over here, in the UK, I had not heard about it but probably means that I was not in touch ! I have just completed reading the first part which was very absorbing. The Thing is I am flying on Tuesday .....


message 5: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Pam wrote: "The Thing is I am flying on Tuesday ..... "

Oh no! Take heart that the plane in the story is a puddle jumper and not a big plane?


message 6: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen 3_Piets (3_piets) | 11 comments I hadn’t heard of it before the announcement but have thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say that it is a thriller so much as mystery and maybe suspense.


message 7: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "We're mixing it up this month with a thriller. Before the Fall swept the awards for Best Novel in 2017 with a Macavity, an Edgar and a ITW Thriller award.

This book centers around a horrible plane..."


I had read it, I guess because it won all those prizes. I think I'd heard of it as well. I would say it's basically a mystery (the real question is who/why dunit), but it definitely has a different feel than the usual fare for this group. (Though I have to say I did not find the ending very convincing. But we'll wait for the 10th on that.)

And Pam, I sympathize. Plane crashes are one of my particular nightmares, and I have two flights this week. Maybe I'll wait until I'm back on the ground to re-read!


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Emily wrote: "Erin wrote: "We're mixing it up this month with a thriller. Before the Fall swept the awards for Best Novel in 2017 with a Macavity, an Edgar and a ITW Thriller award.

This book centers around a h..."
I think now that I am through the first part of the book, I can get put the crash to one side!

As an aside, I am finding the slang being used , er interesting. Scales are falling from my eyes as I look up phrases in the dictionary of slang on line.

Is it me as a Brit or are US based people finding it (mildly) challenging. Normally I just skip expressions I don’t know imaging that I will never find a translation, but I’ve realised it’s worth investigating.

This is a naive question but can I assume that these expressions are consciously put in to reveal character or is it an assumption on the writer’s part that ‘everyone’ knows what he is talking about.

Examples ‘patty melt’, ‘soul patch’ ‘blunt bang’


message 9: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I didn't notice it being especially slangy, but I'll keep an eye out going forward.

You don't have patty melts in the UK? I think of those as being old-fashioned- my dad always orders them at basic restaurants. (It's like a thin hamburger on an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich.)


message 10: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments This is a naive question but can I assume that these expressions are consciously put in to reveal character or is it an assumption on the writer’s part that ‘everyone’ knows what he is talking about.
I suspect it is both. The writer comes from a television background, which would undoubtably exacerbate his use of modern slang. I've noticed it with British and Australian writers as well, which has sent to google and urban dictionary.

Side and somewhat off-color note: my brother, who is a beer aficionado, has a job that occasionally has him in Cambridge, England. He works in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US. At craft breweries here, one can buy beer in a take-away container called a growler. He asked for one in England and was confronted with a totally dumfounded bartender.


Isabella Troxell (isabelredfox) | 19 comments I hadn’t heard of it before and just put in my order! Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up to all of you lol


message 12: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Pam wrote: "Examples ‘patty melt’, ‘soul patch’ ‘blunt bang’."

I wouldn't have considered any of those as slang. Maybe just regional nouns? I'm trying to think if any of those examples might be called something else in other countries and coming up blank.


message 13: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
KarenB wrote: "At craft breweries here, one can buy beer in a take-away container called a growler. He asked for one in England and was confronted with a totally dumfounded bartender.."

LOL! Although, to be fair to that bartender, I've been to a number of places here that haven't heard the term yet either. The super new one that I've gotten a lot of blank stares about is "crowler" (can/growler), which is basically a 32oz beer can that the breweries can fill from the tap and then cap it with an air-tight pop top lid.


message 14: by Dena (new)

Dena | 84 comments I hadn't heard of this book - but then I tend to read series books that have been around for many years.
Pam- I know what a patty melt is but never heard of "soul patch" or "blunt bang." Either I haven't got that far or just skipped over the terms (I'm listening to the audio version).
This is another book I'm not sure I can finish. Too many of the characters are horrible people. They seem like they are meant to be versions of real people in the news (or on the news) now. My - brain? heart? spirit? needs to be immersed in something positive and escape from everything I read in the newspaper. Maybe I should re-read books for children by Elizabeth Enright.
Other suggestions? Please!


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

KarenB I love the idea of a growler. Looks like a great idea! Next time I am near a craft brewery I will ask. Looking it up, I can see that there are ‘Cornish Growlers’ so the idea may exist here.

Ever onwards with the story. I sympathise Dena, the characters are pretty nasty but for me, I am enjoying how the author is making them unpleasant and yet keeping me reading. When very young I ‘holiday’ worked in Brookline, Mass for two very rich families and they were all, including the children, unremittingly ghastly. So I recognise them in this book! Needless to say I lasted only a short time


message 16: by Carole (last edited May 04, 2018 09:37PM) (new)

Carole (thegoodwitchofmarytavy) | 86 comments Dena wrote: "I hadn't heard of this book - but then I tend to read series books that have been around for many years.
Pam- I know what a patty melt is but never heard of "soul patch" or "blunt bang." Either I ..."


A soul patch is that bit of hair under a man's lower lip.

I have no idea what a blunt bang is.

ETA: Bangs cut straight across?


message 17: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments This book and the author were a new one for me. I was immediately grabbed by the story and the writing. It is a mystery of sorts—and a suspense—but wouldn’t call it a thriller. I actually finished it early (am traveling and didn’t want to lug the book around), but I won’t give anything away until after the 10th. Excellent character development!!


message 18: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Dena wrote: "Too many of the characters are horrible people...."

It must be difficult, as an author, to come up with 8 or whatever it is independent motives for murder, without making several of the characters horrible people. Because in this one, part of the question is not only who the killer is, but who the victim is.


message 19: by Dena (new)

Dena | 84 comments Emily, you are right, of course. I was feeling overwhelmed by the hatefulness of several of the characters (the "news" man most of all) and didn't think so much about plot development. I finished the book by fast-forwarding thru some of the diatribes ;-)
I think I'll go re-read some Ram Dass before more fiction!


message 20: by Dorothy (new)

Dorothy Van Daele | 39 comments I just got the book and need to catch up. Context helps with the slang and I often don’t stop reading to get details. When Carole defined “soul patch,” I realized I had heard it before. “Patty melt” isn’t common in SW Ontario, nor is “blunt bang.”


message 21: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Because in this one, part of the question is not only who the killer is, but who the victim is."

Good point! It definitely adds a level of complexity to the investigation when you aren't sure who the intended target was.


message 22: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Based on everyone's responses, I feel like this is one of those books that rather challenges genre preconceptions. If you aren't normally a thriller reader and this was shelved as thriller, you might have missed a great read!


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Dena wrote: "Emily, you are right, of course. I was feeling overwhelmed by the hatefulness of several of the characters (the "news" man most of all) and didn't think so much about plot development. I finished t..."

I was wondering, who is the news man? I mean, Bill Cunningham is Bill O'Reilly, and Roger is Roger Ailes, right? Is the character a thinly-veiled version of a real person as well?


message 24: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I think I've been reading a lot of books lately that play with narrative tense to pull you into the story. What did you think of the present tense in this story? Did it throw you off, or pull you in?


Isabella Troxell (isabelredfox) | 19 comments Abandoned the book today. Only a hundred pages in and I’ve lost track of the number of “F” words... not happy with that


message 26: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "I think I've been reading a lot of books lately that play with narrative tense to pull you into the story. What did you think of the present tense in this story? Did it throw you off, or pull you in?"

I was thinking about that exact thing. I find books written in the present tense annoying. Distracting, without adding anything. Here it makes a little more sense as he's moving back and forth between the "present" and past, but I still don't love it.


message 27: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments The use of present distracted me a bit at the beginning, like trying to read something written in vernacular or dialogue transcribed as it is actually pronounced. After a while, I became accustomed to the tense and didn’t notice it. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished the book, and I had forgotten that it was written in present tense.


message 28: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments Isabella wrote: "Abandoned the book today. Only a hundred pages in and I’ve lost track of the number of “F” words... not happy with that"

I was annoyed by that, Isabella, and by the way the male characters referred to their genitalia. Men may actually talk and think like that, but I don’t care to read about it. One of the several reasons I rarely read anything written by male authors. That and the fact that most male writers don’t inhabit female characters in a way that I can identify with.


message 29: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Dayna wrote: "Isabella wrote: "Abandoned the book today. Only a hundred pages in and I’ve lost track of the number of “F” words... not happy with that"

I was annoyed by that, Isabella, and by the way the male c..."


Have you seen the twitter thread of "How would a male author describe you?" It's pretty funny/horrifying.


message 30: by Dena (new)

Dena | 84 comments Dayna wrote: One of the several reasons I rarely read anything written by male authors. That and the fact that most male writers don’t inhabit female characters in a way that I can identify with."

Dayna & Isabella- I agree with you & most of the books I read are by women. Off the top of my head- there are two I confess to liking: Ian Rankin & some of Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series (even tho they exhibit some of the behaviors we don't like).


message 31: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I haven't really notice the curse words for the most part; the dialect mostly felt pretty true to life.

There are a number of male authors that I love who have written woman very well. Most of the ones that come to mind right now are fantasy writers: Ben Aaronovitch, Jim Butcher, Jasper Fforde, Christopher Moore, Daniel O'Malley. In the mystery world: Alan Bradley, Andrew Mayne, Owen Laukkanen, Reed Farrell Coleman.


Isabella Troxell (isabelredfox) | 19 comments I'll have to look into those writers, thanks for the suggestions!


Isabella Troxell (isabelredfox) | 19 comments Dayna wrote: "Isabella wrote: "Abandoned the book today. Only a hundred pages in and I’ve lost track of the number of “F” words... not happy with that"

I was annoyed by that, Isabella, and by the way the male c..."



I'm glad I'm not the only one lol


message 34: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen 3_Piets (3_piets) | 11 comments I haven’t worked out how to reply to a comment but to add to the list of male authors, MRC Kasasian and his Mangle Street Murders... oh hang on, he is inherently sarcastic and talks derogatively of men and women. Brilliant author, main narrator is a female but she is sharp as a tack in retorts to sexist males. To “You’re a female” she replies, “how very observant of you, you would almost make a good detective” or something along that line.


message 35: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Today is the 10th! Spoilers now welcome!


message 36: by Antoinette (new)

Antoinette | 186 comments I think I'll skip this one.


message 37: by Dena (new)

Dena | 84 comments Erin wrote: There are a number of male authors that I love who have written woman very well. Most of the... Alan Bradley"
Yes! I'm sure there are others I've forgot, but I read all Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books & have suggested them to friends.


message 38: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments We're on a tangent, but here's a summary of the thread I mentioned: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/...

I think it's not so much that male writers can't describe women well, of course many can, and not that all sorts of writers don't do a terrible job of inhabiting people different from themselves, with gender as an obvious stumbling block. It's that male writers who are considered really insightful, or consider themselves really insightful, often have very limited views of women.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Now that I am a couple of weeks on from reading the book, I can say that I really enjoyed the brutality of some of the characters (the odious newsman, Bill Milligan) and cheered from the back row when Scott reveals the truth whilst being interviewed on tv.

I am puzzled by two elements which are fundamental to characters,first: why does Hawley spent so much time describing Scott’s paintings, unless it is to incriminate him. If it is then it feels clumsy. But I think something else is going on, but it eludes me.

The second is: Bill is about to be sacked/ suspended by the network for phone tapping (or receiving info as a result of phone tapping) but owing to the death of his boss, is not suspended and continues hounding Scott as a culprit. What are we meant to make of that? Is it a reflection on what happens when unethical news reporters are allowed their head or more uncomfortably is the writer suggesting that we, as consumers of news, allow and encourage this sort of pursuit? Does this make give us any moral right to criticise the odious Bill Milligan? Do you think that we might be rejecting Bill and the unpleasant characters in the book because they are too near the truth of that bullying part of human nature in all of us which likes to bring down the hero?


message 40: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Pam wrote: "I am puzzled by two elements which are fundamental to characters,first: why does Hawley spent so much time describing Scott’s paintings, unless it is to incriminate him. If it is then it feels clumsy. But I think something else is going on, but it eludes me. ..."

I can't say I think it's deeper than this, or at least that he wants the investigators to have a reason for suspecting him. But I don't find that believable - who would subject themselves to a plane crash, or assume that they would survive if they did? Even arsonists who like watching the result of their crimes don't usually light fire to their own house with themselves inside (AFAIK).


message 41: by Erin (last edited May 16, 2018 10:25AM) (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I can't say I think it's deeper than this, or at least that he wants the investigators to have a reason for suspecting him."

Agreed. Scott would not have had any reason to pursue the mystery if he hadn't been suspected by the investigators, right? So the whole story kind of rests on him having a need to prove his innocence.

Yeah, I think the investigators' suspicions take quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to follow. Kamikaze artist is kind of weird direction to take with an investigation. (Although, now that I say that, wouldn't that have made for an interesting Agatha Christie type mystery solution!)


message 42: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments I was really disappointed by finding out who crashed the plane and why. After leading us down all these interesting paths - finance, artist run amuck, politics - we end up with revenge? And he kills himself along with her? It seemed so out of character for one thing. I could definitely see his escalation of his abuse ending in her death, that isn't that uncommon a scenario, but he was such an egotist I have trouble seeing him killing himself as well. "We will die together in a blaze of glory" just didn't fit with what we'd seen of his character. (Sorry not to remember names, book has been returned to the library) And then the fact that he was a fairly peripheral character all along just goes against good writing. It's like the author wrote most of the book, couldn't figure out how to end it, put all the characters on a dartboard and threw a dart and it landed on the copilot.

My other quibble with the book was with how little concern he treated the trauma of the child as well as with how little trauma the child was exhibiting. Not talking happens with kids for all sorts of reasons, often fairly trivial, and to have that be the defining symptom of the devastation of having your entire family killed in a terrifying plane crash seemed really weak.


message 43: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments KarenB wrote: "I was really disappointed by finding out who crashed the plane and why. After leading us down all these interesting paths - finance, artist run amuck, politics - we end up with revenge? And he kill..."

Yeah, I found the solution both implausible and kind of boring, compared to all the other motives that had been set up.


Sherri Couey | 1 comments Just finished listening to this book thanks to the Wyoming Virtual Library via Overdrive. Thanks for putting this book on the reading list. I might have missed it otherwise.

I was consumed by the book. Didn't want to stop but life did interrupt my listening plans more than once.

I have to admit there were times I had to go back to listen portions over to be sure I didn't miss something. There are quite a few characters involved and many sub-plots to keep straight. BUT..it was worth the effort.

To me it all comes back to the rule of 6 degrees of separation. We are all connected to each other some way.

I don't want to give away anything to those who haven't finished the book yet so I will keep my thought and questions till later in the month.


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

I too kept losing track of who was who. Perhaps a list in the front as Russian novels normally provide would do the trick!

I accepted the culprit as having as much motivation as anyone else but I think KarenB is right, he was too much of an egotist to have killed himself and yet I was intrigued that he really didn’t see himself as a bad guy. I thought that was an interesting insight. Perhaps there is a point being made about how money and influence escape the curiosity of the press whereas the defenceless are easy meat. (On the eve of the Royal Wedding over here, I can’t help but think and feel for Princess Sparkle’s dad who has succumbed to the hounding of the press).


message 46: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments What I read into the description of the paintings is insight into Scott’s mental state and his evolution as an artist leading up to the crash. After all, the paintings were all done well in advance of the crash and possibly some of them in advance of his knowing Maggie. The circumstances that lead to Scott’s being on the aircraft AND surviving the crash are a string of coincidences that could have lead to a different outcome had one of those small events not taken place. It was absolutely believable that Milligan would latch onto that as proof that Scott had something to do with the crash. It was less believable that the crash investigators would seize the paintings as evidence that Scott had something to do with the crash.


message 47: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Sherri wrote: "I don't want to give away anything to those who haven't finished the book yet so I will keep my thought and questions till later in the month."

Share away! Our cut-off to beware of spoilers is any time after the 10th of the month, so everyone should already be prepared to read comments that might give something away. :-)


message 48: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Just a few days left in our discussion. Any final thoughts?

Reading about the author recently, he has a background in television and film; did you see this influence in the book?


message 49: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 205 comments Two final thoughts:

It was a little difficult to swallow that very wealthy parents would choose someone like the sister to manage a fortune for their children. Take them to raise, perhaps, but not to be the sole trustee of the money.

To respond to Erin’s question, I think the author’s background in TV definitely influenced how the news moguls were portrayed. Too bad we only saw that side of the 24 hour news cycle.


message 50: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Dayna wrote: "Two final thoughts:

It was a little difficult to swallow that very wealthy parents would choose someone like the sister to manage a fortune for their children. Take them to raise, perhaps, but no..."


I hadn't thought of that, but you're right - presumably they would have had succession plans and estates and trusts and all, and a professional executor.

I don't feel surprised to learn that the author had a TV/film background, but I can't quite say why not. Maybe because it seemed like a very audience-friendly book? Easy to read, lots of hook.


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