I’m a sucker for a locked-room mystery. Or an isolated-island mystery, in this case. It’s day 114 of quarantine here, and while nobody has been killed off yet, I’ll admit I’m starting to have a lot more sympathy for all those characters trapped in country houses, abandoned islands, and snowbound trains.
I’ve been looking forward to reading They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall since I first saw it mentioned last year. Little did I know that by the time I finally read it, I would be feeling the walls closing in on me as if I was the one stranded on a deserted island. Nonetheless, I was excited to finally get my hands on this book.
Miriam Macy has big plans for her week on a private island off the coast of Mexico. This is her chance to fix all her problems—the financial problems, the legal problems, the problems with her teenage daughter.
It was supposed to be a week in paradise, participating in a new reality show that must surely have a hefty cash prize waiting at the end. Instead, Miriam and her fellow travelers quickly find out that they’ve all been lured to the island under false pretenses. And before long, one of them is dead. Then another.
Miriam’s new plan is simple. Survive the week, escape the island, and get back home to her daughter.
If, like me, you’re a huge Agatha Christie fan, this probably sounds a little familiar.
And Then There Were None is one of my favorite Christie novels—one of the first I read as a child and probably the one I’ve reread the most. Howzell Hall makes it clear on the dedication page that this is her version of Christie’s novel:
While I’m all about cozy mysteries, I was intrigued by the idea of “something darker and American.” Howzell Hall delivered on her promise by bringing in issues relevant to today’s headlines—cyber bullying, police violence against people of color, a diverse cast. And it definitely has a darker feel. Which is kind of strange, when you think that Christie’s version included multiple murdered children as well as an unrepentant mass murderer, although those murders were firmly in the past and only alluded to. They All Fall Down feels grittier and more realistic.
I had quite a bit of fun as I read, picking out details she had carried over from Christie’s novel, a bit like hunting for Easter eggs in a Pixar movie. Starting with the title. Howzell Hall, like Christie, took her title from a children’s poem, although fortunately a much less offensive one. Then there is the boat ride to a forsaken island with other guests who have been invited under similarly false pretenses, a table with disappearing figurines, a female narrator whose character is repeatedly questioned by her male housemates, a gun that goes missing . . . there are lots of little nods to the original novel. I won’t list them all, especially since some would be spoilers, but see how many you can find!
While I enjoyed the book, especially at the beginning, I found that the further I read, the less likable I found the characters. I sympathized with the narrator in the beginning. I could feel the pain of the rift between her and her daughter, but found her less and less sympathetic as the story went on. While all of the characters in And Then There Were None are clearly bad people, I admit I always found myself hoping a bit that Vera would survive and change her ways. Maybe because her guilt seemed to haunt her so. With Miriam Macy, I just couldn’t seem to root for her in the same way. She seemed intent on putting the blame for her actions on others. I found most of the characters equally unlikable.
Overall, I do recommend the book. Just be forewarned if you are expecting a Christie-esque cozy, this is not one. It is, as the author promised, “something darker and American.”
Have you read They All Fall Down? How many details
from Christie’s novel did you find folded into the story?