Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Ring-a-ring o’ rosie . . .
... Someone wants to play.
... Who's not playing the game?
... Now Someone must pay.
Jen Harper likes to play it safe. She is settling into life on the outskirts of a sleepy fishing village with her little boy, Danny. Life by the sea – just how she wanted it.
When she meets Andy, she feels the time has come to put her baggage and the scars of the past behind her. Then she is introduced to Scott, Andy’s best friend, and is stung by his obvious disdain for her. Why is Scott so protective of his best friend? What is the dark secret that threatens all of them?
In her attempt to find answers, Jen must confront her demons and push her relationships to their limits. By digging up the past, she puts Danny and herself in danger. Will she succeed in uncovering the truth before they all fall down?
They All Fall Down is the debut novel from Irish author Cat Hogan. Set in a small coastal village which relies on both the tourist and fishing industry to keep it going the story follows Jen Harper as she returns to take up residence with her young son Danny in a house which she had been left by her Auntie Pat. That may all seem straight forward enough but once Jen has begun to settle in and get over the fact she has to share her house with the resident lodger – fisherman Andy until at least the end of the year, well then things start to take a slightly different turn. They All Fall Down is said to be a fast paced psychological thriller, I didn’t find the pace at all fast instead I felt until the closing chapters I very much felt the pace was slow and languid similarly to the ebb and flow of the tide of water next to the village. There were definitely elements of the thriller to be found in this book but I felt the whole pace could have been vastly ramped up and more of a sense of mystery incorporated throughout the story. We knew from the start who the person was we should be keeping an eye on was but still the finer details needed to be unravelled. I would have preferred to be left guessing throughout and attempting myself to slot the pieces of the puzzle together as the same time the characters were. Saying all that the male character was written to absolute perfection and I was suspicious of every movement he made and his ultimate motives, Psycho is an understatement.
Coming from the coastal county of Wexford herself Cat obviously has a love for the sea and rugged coastlines as they are described and used to great effect throughout the story. If the sea is angry and wild the characters seem to be going through some inner and outer turmoil as they all try to keep secrets from each other. Yet the more they keep hidden the bigger the tangled web of mystery and bribery widens. Throughout the entire book there really was an overwhelming oppressive feeling as if everything was closing in on the residents of the village. We only read about a few characters connected to Jen and Andy and it would have been nice to read of some other people living in the village just to add more of a community feeling to the story.
The book took on a very menacing, suffocating tone and none of the main players seemed particularly happy even though that was all Jen wanted for her life. They just appeared to be caught in a spell cast by a character and forgot their way as said character saw their flaws and weaknesses and played on them in every way possible for their own gain and to ultimately satisfy a crazy ambition they believed they had. Jen claims when speaking to her best friend Sal that this is the year she was going to get her act together and make life the best it could be. She is raising Danny on her own as the relationship with his father didn’t work out and I presume she would like to find happiness again, yet I felt there could have been a bit more delving into her background initially which would explain her later actions and thought processes. She was a mother at her core and she always wanted Danny’s safety and well being as paramount but at the same time she was a closed book and reluctant to open up the barriers she had enforced around herself. She does have a few close friends in Sal, who is an artist, and Tess, who runs the local bar, but there were times I just wanted to shake Jen and say you can see everything going on in front of your eyes why don’t you get to the bottom of the problem and confront your friends before it is too late.
Andy seemed a nice enough man and would help Jen in any way he could when he wasn’t away at sea fishing. Yet like with all the characters Andy has a past that he is not necessarily keeping hidden but at the same time he is not that forthcoming unless really pushed or questioned. He is deeply hurt by a horrific event in the past and has found it extremely difficult to move on. Andy has a friend Scott and I know I wasn’t supposed to like him (not that I really did) but he was by the far the best character within the book. He was brilliantly written - evil, rotten to the core, manipulative, menacing, a liar, corrupt, obsessive, possessive, dark, intimidating. Really I could go on and on with adjectives to describe him. He brought the bit of action so badly needed within the book. Scott was all sweetness and light on the outside but on the inside his mind was constantly whirring away plotting and scheming and he could be compares to a puppeteer. He controlled all the players and strings in the game whether they knew it or not. Unfortunately most of the characters couldn’t see through his false persona because he portrayed himself so well in that way and people fell under his spell and once hooked had no way of getting themselves out. Scott played his role with a sense of superiority and a smug feeling of satisfaction that he was the one in control. He really was one of the cruellest characters I have read in a long time and I won’t forget him in a hurry.
Sal’s storyline felt a little weak to me but Tess who was married to Doc had a believable storyline even though I wouldn’t want anything that occurred to her to happen in real life. They All Fall Down meandered along at a slow enough pace as I have said until the final few chapters which were action packed and emotion filled. Although for me the scenes and explanations were all very good and not too far fetched they didn’t make up for my feelings about the previous three quarters of the book. This wasn’t the page turner I was expecting and I know I only read very small amounts of thriller/crime but when I do I expect to be hooked and rapidly turning the pages to discover the ending. That didn’t happen here although the ending was very good and left the reader guessing and set us up nicely for book two if the author chooses to return to the same setting in the future. Cat Hogan has shown glimpses of the writing that is to come, she can certainly write an evil character very well but the overall story didn’t have the mind blowing twist that people may look for as I guessed what had happened. That said I would try another book from this author as her writing shows great promise.
Thank you to Cat Hogan and Poolbeg books for my copy of They All Fall Down to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.