They All Fall Down
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?
Raw and energetic, They All Fall Down is a fast-paced and addictive novel exploring the depths of flawed human nature, the thin line between love and obsession and the destructive nature of addiction.
I was really looking forward to this book and had high hopes for it. The writing shows great promise for this author, but I don't think it is showcased in this book.
The positives are the setting of a small fishing village, some good characterisation and a twisted plot. The negatives are some poor characterisation, the twisted plot and the dialogue.
The setting is great, and partially captures village life, although it would be nice to get a bigger picture of the village and its inhabitants. Jen is well portrayed as a single mother wanting what’s best for her son Danny, and so is her inherited lodger Andy – nice bloke but not very observant. I like that their relationship is fairly straightforward, but it is obvious from very early on that they will end up together and I would have preferred a little more intrigue there – not, I hasten to add, the trope of the will-they, won’t-they and misunderstandings you get in romance novels, but just so that I didn’t get to tick the box so soon. Jen has a job, but doesn’t seem to be at her workplace very often, rather conveniently for the story.
Jen’s friend Tess and her husband Doc create a nice subplot that neatly ties in with the main story. Sal, Jen’s best friend, is also written fairly well, although I had some gripes with her character later in the book.
The last main character, Scott, is given some suitably creepy passages (no spoiler there – we know from chapter two he’s the one to look out for). Although we are in no doubt from the get-go that Scott is unhinged, I feel that the author hadn’t done any/enough research on personality disorders to get his character spot-on and he reads sometimes as too extreme, sometimes as too clichéd. I get that he is charming and disarming, but find it hard to believe that Jen is the only one who notices his “issues”. How can his best friend not have noticed something “off” about him?
The plot is a tried-and-tested one in many ways. That’s fair enough, but I would have liked to have seen something new in it – it feels like the author was playing safe rather than having confidence in her own imagination. The most real and cinematic scene was near the end, where things come to a head between her and Scott, which is pacey, exciting, makes good use of the setting and shows to what lengths a mother will go to protect her child.
I don’t get the relevance to the nursery rhyme from which the title comes. The nursery rhyme is mentioned twice in the book, by two unrelated characters – I have no idea why they both "hear" this nursery rhyme (or why either of them do). It is used to connect them but there is no logical reason for it doing so and no logical reason I can see for it being what comes into either of their minds at the point it does.
My biggest bugbear, which I couldn’t get past and I know for sure affects my judgement of the whole book, is the dialogue. It is clunky and unrealistic (or maybe too realistic in some places where a lot of unnecessary small talk is given). Within that, the biggest problem and rookie writer error is the use of the name of the person being addressed in nearly every feckin’ speech. It was a problem; it was like the name was set in 24 pt and my eye was seeking it out and skimming over the rest of the text to get to it.
I feel also that the reader is given too much information – small things as well as large – rather than being left to read between the lines; I don’t like having to guess, but nor do I like being told – a fine balance for any author and not the same line for all readers I suppose, but for this reader the writing was too much on the telling side.
I was disappointed in the ending. Again, a little clichéd and leaving no doubt that there will be a sequel. My feeling is that it would be better as a stand-alone book.
Most people seem to be calling this a psychological thriller although it is categorised on Amazon as literary fiction and women’s fiction. I’m not sure how I would categorise it – not psychological thriller, I think, as too much information is given to the reader and there is not enough build-up of tension, but nor is it particularly literary (according to my definition of same). Nor is it "women's fiction" and indeed will appeal to both men and women. Maybe “general fiction” as it has aspects of several different genres.
My summary: this was an easy but frustrating read; the writing is clunky in parts, especially the dialogue. It is noticeably a first novel, but I think with guidance the author will go on to write some great books. I will read the next book as I really hope this author does well with her writing career, but the writing will have had to have matured to ensure that I go on to read her third.
Editorial Input & Design
Copy editing and proofreading are fine on the surface, but I cannot understand how this book could have gone through a number of self-edits, beta reads, an edit, a copy edit and a proofread without someone pointing out the tic of name use. The author shows great promise and would have benefited from editorial guidance to get a better flow and avoid the clichés. The manuscript needed a couple more edits to fine tune and tighten the writing.
I would have advised fewer points of view (there is an omniscient narrator) and suggested giving less away to the reader. I also would strongly have suggested it be treated as a stand-alone book; that wouldn't rule out a sequel but would allow the author room for maneouvre for her second book – and be more satisfying for the reader.
Cover: I like the design, although I don’t really understand it. I don’t recall a knotted rope with paint/blood on it featuring in the book and the rope is too thin I think to represent a rope on a boat. It could represent Scott’s bedroom proclivities, I suppose.
There is a puff quote from a well-known Irish author, the effect of which is rather spoiled by Cat saying in her acknowledgements what a good friend he is. I’m not suggesting Eoin Colfer doesn’t genuinely stand by what he says, but – authors take note – readers have to have faith that all recommendations are heart-felt and a mate-quote doesn’t instil that confidence.
Internal design: All good.
Book Clubs & Reviews
I think this would make a good book club read. There is plenty to unravel in the characters and their motivations, and it is likely that there will be a range of “star ratings” amongst members, which would lead to good discussion.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.6 stars (50 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 4.2 stars (30 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 3.87 stars (192 ratings).
Buy & Author
Published by Poolbeg Press and available from their website
hive.co.uk (paperback £7.79)
Connect with the author:
Links of interest
Lady Nicci Interview with the author in the How I Write series
Evie Gaughan 20 questions for the author
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