Book Review: They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall is a cunning standalone suspense novel that brings seven sinners to a private island for a reckoning they never saw coming.
Rachel Howzell Hall takes a very different approach in her psychological thriller They All Fall Down than she does in her Elouise “Lou” Norton mystery novels. Whereas Lou is a heroine to root for, here it’s hard to say which character is the most vicious, narcissistic, myopic or self-indulgent, but all are fascinating in their portraits of evil.
The story is told from the point of view of Miriam “Mimi” Macy, a divorced, black single mom of estranged teen Morgan, who’s eager to get her life back on track after falling on hard times. Miriam is perpetually jealous of the life her ex-husband and his new wife lead, eager to return to a social setting she considers rightfully hers. Readers follow Miriam to the exotic Mictlan Island in Mexico, where she’s been summoned to star on a reality TV show and possibly walk away with enough money to escape her troubles back home.
Very quickly, Miriam and her six companions, who are dropped off by boat on the otherwise deserted isle, are told that their grandiose dreams of why they’d been whisked away were each a ruse. Instead, before his death, the lawyer they shared in common, Phillip Omeke, had arranged for his most challenging clients to mingle among themselves without anyone else around. He’d preyed on their weaknesses, knowing they’d agree to gather in this utterly remote location if the lure of a better life was dangled before them. Hall doles out bits and pieces of everyone’s backstory, proving each of them capable of the worst horrors known to society. There’s a history of police brutality. Of fraud. Spousal murders. And even a nurse who’s poisoned the elderly women under her care.
The group of seven, who are just getting to know one another and accept being surrounded by people they’d never voluntarily spend time with in real life, soon gets whittled down. Over their first sumptuous meal, Chef Javier, Miriam’s only confidante, kicks the bucket over a piece of fugu he’s prepared. Mayhem ensues as a darker reality than any TV competition show would air emerges. As desperation starts to set in, it’s every person for themselves.
What Hall does masterfully here, aside from writing chilling prose that makes the reader eager to see who’ll meet their demise next, is give the most evil of society’s creatures the merest touch of humanity, enough so we don’t quite want them to die… but wouldn’t want them as our neighbors, either.
Miriam’s attempts to stay one step ahead of the mysterious murderer are as fascinating as the details Hall weaves in about why Omeke lured her to the island to begin with. Her frenzied thoughts bounce from one suspect to the next, an ally at one moment able to turn into an enemy the next.
But who could I tell? Would Wallace believe me now that he and I had called a truce? Eddie—he was crazy, sure, but he was also a cop, and he’d understand my logic. Frank, the last of the living, would believe me just to deflect suspicion off him. Yes. They would all believe me now.
Tell them. Right now!
I rushed over to the door and flung it open.
A noose sat on the carpet, right at my feet.
As more of Miriam’s story is revealed, we learn that she’s right at home among her criminal cohorts, having sought to avenge her daughter’s bully by becoming a firsthand expert in the act of bullying. Yet rather than reflect on her actions, Miriam is more than eager to investigate what everyone around is doing, including spying on two lovers: southern, sex-hungry Desi, and high roller Frank, who seek comfort in the carnal.
Poor Celeste. I didn’t know her, but I had lived through a similar situation. Yeah, I had my own Desi Scoggins, who now lived in my house and enjoyed my view of the city and my fancy refrigerator.
But… what happened on Mictlan Island stayed on Mictlan Island—for a price. Frank would pay that price, just to keep me quiet. And Desi—what about Hoyt, the coal-mining baron who’d passed off blue plastic as precious stones, who had told her that those giant shrimp in Newport News were baby lobsters? Did Desi want to break his heart? Did she want to keep this island liaison as much a secret as Frank?
It doesn’t matter that none of the characters have enough of a moral compass to invoke our compassion, making it hard to rank who’s the most heinous. Every reader will likely decide that for themselves. Hall makes their short stay on the island filled with backstabbing, intrigue, and the rawest of human emotion, like Survivor on steroids—and coke.
Like Survivor on steroids—and coke.
There’s an almost gleeful anticipation to each murder as the seven drop down to six, five, four, three, two, and then one. Does the punishment fit the deceased’s crime? Is vigilante justice being enacted? Who’ll be the last man or woman standing? Hall offers up these questions and many more in this exciting page-turner where nobody is quite what they seem, and death is around every luxuriously appointed corner.