The Good Father by Noah Hawley

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The Good Father by Noah Hawley

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Everything in Dr Paul Allen's life speaks of perfection: beautiful, efficient second wife, great second family, rewarding, prospering career. Then the FBI knocks on the door. The favourite candidate for the US presidency has been assassinated and they think that Paul's son has pulled the trigger.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444730364

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Dr Paul Allen is more than happy with his life. His second wife, Fran, is efficient, a good manager, a good mother to their young twins and not overly emotional as Ellen (Wife No. 1) was. In fact you could say that his life runs like clockwork, which is just how he likes it. Paul hates chaos and the unexpected, but he's about to be visited by both. As the Allens sit in horror watching news footage of the charismatic presidential front-runner being gunned down, there's a knock at the door. Their real horror is beginning; the FBI believes the son he had with Ellen is the guy who pulled the trigger.

Noah Hawley has a rich writing background; three previous novels, one screenplay and two TV series give the impression of a man with something to say. In the case of The Good Father, though, it isn't just said but ardently felt. This book will hold your heart and mind in a vice and not release them, even when the last page becomes a memory... and believe me, that last page will become a searing, vivid memory.

The plot's skeleton, that of a father's race to exonerate a suspected killer, is excellent; that alone would ensure that pages are turned with speed and anticipation. However, what makes The Good Father remarkable is that skeleton's flesh. The relationship between Dr Allen and his eldest son, Daniel, is the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle incarnate. There was always an excuse for not being there that seemed legitimate at the time but that drove a wedge of unfamiliarity between them, inch by inch, until they became strangers. Therefore the Doctor has to come to terms with what his son may have done, discover who his son is and attempt to find proof of his innocence all at the same time. He (and, indeed, we) read assassins' biographies, retrace Daniel's steps and follow disparate leads against a background of a young family that need him and a world that holds him equally responsible just because he's Daniel's father.

Hawley's research is faultless and detailed. He shows us the mind of a father trying to prevent himself from falling into an abyss, a mind that tries to survive by relating the horror back to something familiar: his experience in medicine. The author also manages an interesting transformation. The more that the Doctor frays at the edges, the more humane (and, for me, likeable) he becomes. It's as if, when everything that we know and believe in is stripped from us, the only thing that remains and develops is our humanity.

Perhaps my only moment of disbelief concerns his wife, Fran's, supply of patience. But there again, there's love enough, may be a high degree of obsession would become acceptable once you know the alternative is disintegration. The people Daniel (and, eventually, Paul) encounters are also well-drawn and almost four-dimensional. The salt-of-the earth couple in Iowa who become parental stand-ins for Daniel are wonderful, becoming even more poignant with the changes that become apparent during Paul's visit. The frat boys are hideously believable. In fact the conclusion of Daniel's stand-off with them made me cheer, albeit inwardly. (If I hadn't been on a train it would have been at volume!) Murray, lawyer, investigator and Paul's friend, is a bit of a cliché but he brings some refreshing lighter moments, so all is forgiven.

The Good Father is an excellent thriller, but more than that, it's a study of how well we know our children, how well our children understand us and, most importantly, the butterfly effect of a single word, action or event. This is the sort of novel that could encourage the examination of our interaction with children and that can't be a bad thing.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to read another book examining a child via a parent's viewpoint, try We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. You might also enjoy Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

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Buy The Good Father by Noah Hawley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Father by Noah Hawley at

Booklists.jpg The Good Father by Noah Hawley is in the Richard and Judy Book Club Spring 2013.


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