Continuing my streak of entertaining pleasure reads, an hour after I put down Amy Stewart’s latest mystery, I picked up Noah Hawley’s fifth novel, Before the Fall. Before the Fall is a little bit of a genre stretch for me. I put it on hold when it was first published, and was just walking out of the library when I ran into a patron who has a similar reading list. She just returned it, said she could not put it down, and was anxious to chat when I finished. Her feedback shifted Before the Fall to the top of my to be read pile.
The story: a private plane is flying from Martha’s Vineyard to Manhattan carrying the Batemans (a media mogul, his much younger wife and two children), the Kiplings (a powerful Wall Street broker and his wife), and Scott Burroughs, a painter about to make his comeback. The plane crashes shortly after take off, and Burroughs and the Bateman’s four-year-old son are the only survivors. Before the Fall is the story of the investigation and the aftermath, well told from a variety of points of view.
I can’t say anything else about the plot. You will want to unfold each layer, let it build upon itself, predict and guess at the outcomes. What I can say is I was held captive by this novel. (My husband had to cook.) Yes, I wanted to know why the plane went down. It reminded me of watching the news after JFK Jr.’s plane disappeared. The why doesn’t change the outcome, but is not something one can easily set aside. As I am turning pages and wondering, the details of the characters-the back story that may or may not become pertinent-has me engaged to the point of being willing to believe a couple of different scenarios. Is the scenario Hawley chose the best? Does it do justice to the crash and the people he has laid out for us readers? You will have to decide.
Stephanie Plum isn’t the only woman detective to come out of New Jersey…Constance Kopp is back to solve another crime.
Readers of Girl Waits With Gun might remember Constance, a tall and formidable woman from Bergen County, New Jersey, living in the early 1900s. Based on real people and real situations, author Amy Stewart imagines what happened in a page turning, entertaining romp. In this installment, Constance is “almost” a deputy for the Sheriff’s Department. It is legal for women to be deputies in New Jersey at this time, but attaining an actual badge and authority continues to be just beyond her grasp and the grasp of the well-meaning (and perhaps smitten?) Sheriff Heath.
As an almost deputy, Constance works as prison matron for the female prisoners, often sleeping at the jail. She tries to help a woman accused of shooting her husband, as well as some runaway girls being taken advantage of. One stormy night, she accompanies an inmate to the hospital; he escapes on her watch, putting the community at risk and all but eliminating any chance Constance has of becoming deputy. Add her family and their trials to the mix, and you have a novel.
I highly recommend Girl Waits with Gun and Lady Cop Makes Trouble. You don’t need to read or listen to them in order, but if you can, do. Stewart is a great story-teller, and who knows? A feisty detective in 1915 New Jersey and New York may be just who you would like to read about this week!
After reading a description of The Doll House describing this debut novel by Fiona Davis as a period piece about the famous Barbizon Hotel for women in New York, and the generations of women who lived there, I thought “YES!” A debut novel and historical fiction, how can I resist? I turned the last few pages last night and decided this was not at all what was described or what I expected. But, I was not disappointed.
The Doll House is about small town girl Darby whose father has died and whose mother has used her insurance money to send Darby to New York to attend the Katie Gibbs secretarial school in the 1950s. Darby lives at the Barbizon on a floor with all of the Ford models, as there is no room on the Katie Gibbs floor. She never quite fits in and she doesn’t do well in school. She meets Esme, a maid at the hotel, and begins to sneak out at night with her to a jazz club where Esme is the hat check girl and a singer. Esme convinces Darby to sing back up, introduces her to Sam who soon becomes her paramour, and keeps her out late most nights.
The other half of the story is about Rose. Her chapter opens with her giving up a broadcasting job to write for a start-up, breaking up with her live-in lover and having to move out of their apartment, which coincidentally is in the Barbizon. Rose is working on a story about the Barbizon and its earlier residents, and thus the tie in with Darby and Esme.
We learn very early on that Darby now lives a reclusive, solitary life on the fourth floor, and never leaves home without a veiled hat. Esme is dead–she fell from a window back in the 1950s. The ensuing chapters bring you to these ending points. There isn’t much mystery, and the “how” isn’t particularly page turning. There are hints at a couple of directions the story lines might follow that do not pan out. I wish I found more satisfaction in the growth of the characters. My “hindsight is twenty twenty” analysis: The Doll House is not the top of the to read pile but worth a try for someone who likes historical fiction and has no expectations.