By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Noah Hawley
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
Though Noah Hawley’s novel’s ending is anti-climactic, it captures 21st century public angst. The author’s clever plot reminds reader/listeners of the recent American Presidential election.
Hawley’s story alludes to American government agency ineptitude, a newspaper’s closure for indiscriminate phone taps, and American television’s news bias. Hawley handily skewers the free-press, television news, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in “Before the Fall”.
The essence of the story is about a private plane crash that kills all but two passengers, a 4-year-old boy and a 47-year-old artist. The artist is a recently recovered alcoholic who manages to rescue the boy and save himself by swimming several hours after a crash in the Atlantic. The artist is initially recognized as a hero. The boy becomes the sole heir to a 300-million-dollar fortune which becomes a news reporter’s rationale for questioning the artist’s honesty, motive, and miraculous survival. By gathering illegally tapped phone information, the reporter’s rationale is reinforced by a FBI investigator’s phone calls. It is determined that the crash is deliberate. The mystery is who did it and why.
The illegal wiretapping reminds one of Murdoch’s employee in a British tabloid that had to be closed. The attack by a TV news reporter of a hero reminds one of Fox and CNN News reporting that drives for sensational stories rather than truth.
A FBI investigation of the motive of a victim is testament to government ineptitude. The Illegal wiretapping of private phone calls is testament to mistrust of reporters. News conservative and liberal bias is testament to mistrust of the general media.
The victims in Hawley’s story are two wealthy families, the artist, a body-guard, and the flight crew. One of the business leaders is a media mogul and the other is a deal maker. Both moguls are tainted by questionable ethics. The deal maker is a criminal for laundering money for countries forbidden to be traded with by the American government. The media mogul is aware of illegal wiretapping being done by one of his newscasters to boost television ratings. Hawley shows the media owner directs his TV news manager to stop the newscaster’s illegal wire-tapping but does not suggest the reporter is to be fired. There is an inference that the TV mogul is going to sweep the wire-tapping under the rug in the hope it is not discovered. In any case, the death of the mogul allows the reporter to continue wiretapping to create a sensational and false “news” story.
What creates the mystery are possible motives for the plane crash when no mechanical failure is found. The money-launderer is working with criminals that have heard he may be indicted. The media-mogul has a body-guard that is not found in the plane wreckage. There are bullet holes in the fuselage of the plane. A co-pilot has a sketchy reputation.
Because the money-launderer works with criminals, maybe a contract for murder is executed. The media-mogul’s body-guard has a reputation for surviving horrendous circumstances. Could he have been hired as a contract killer? The co-pilot is a last-minute addition to the crew. Did he have an unknown motive that accidentally leads to his own death? Is the hero somehow guilty? Who is the murderer?
Hawley’s story is a take-down of news media, and government by revealing the nature of human beings. The media’s drive for sensation provided the American President a forum for his own self-interest, at the expense of the common good. The FBI Director chose actions unbecoming a government agency that is intended to serve and protect the American public.
The United Kingdom chose Brexit to escape the European Union’s open borders. To many, the Brexit escape is at the expense of the general public’s economic well-being. As Daniel Kahneman (an Israeli-American psychologist) notes, “We’re blind to our blindness.” The coda of the story is — who can you trust to tell the truth; and maybe, what is the truth?