Review – They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down – Tammy Cohen

Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have become a speed reader of thrillers, fluent in the language of suspense and adept at navigating an unreliable narrator’s murky depths. All thrillers have one common goal: keeping the reader in a dark guessing game for as long as possible. Authors accomplish this in different, but usually familiar ways. We’ve seen their tropes time and time again, to varying degrees of success. The narrator withholds information, giving us a fragmented image full of secrets. Or, they’ll race to the finish line of the book, only to reveal that the protagonist was crazy all along. Drinking problems, spousal abuse, isolation, estrangement, and creepy cabins in podunk forests are symptoms of the plot props used in the mega-popular genre.

According to these pillars of suspenseful stereotypes, I judge thrillers on three things:

  1. The ability to surprise the reader, and the believability of the plot twists.
  2. The uniqueness of the plot and character.
  3. The quality of world-building.

If a book can hit all of these targets without being just another thriller to blend in on my shelf, it has my heart.

Tammy Cohen’s creepy thriller has been on UK bookshelves for several months now, but today is its official birthday of entreating into the U.S. market! Hannah is an inpatient of a luxury mental health facility, cohabiting with a range of women with cerebral challenges, many of whom are survivors of suicide attempts. She is estranged from her sister, at odds with her disloyal husband, and closely guarded by her mother. When two of her friends take their own lives within the clinic, Hannah’s instinct tells her that their deaths were something closer to homicide, though she can’t yet prove it. As her secrets from her own life spill out across the page, she and her mother race to trace the dark secrets of the clinic itself.

Cohen is adept at creating a claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere for her cast to live in. Many of the characters are totally unreliable, subject to their own mental and emotional disorders, and yet, they are likable, distinct, and important to the chaotic world Hannah lives in. The doctors of the clinic are no different; they have deeply personal backstories, and it’s hard to pinpoint the culprit within this “whodunnit.” Cohen often presents compassion from these characters, but she never promises that it comes with honest intentions.

Cohen’s world is bleak, but it avoids becoming dull or depressing. Her characters yearn to get better and get out; where there is darkness, there is also a sense of sincere hope.

The book is steadily laced with genuine surprises and twists. I can’t even explain some of the earlier points of the book without revealing too much. She doesn’t save the secrets until a few heart-pounding final pages; rather, she embraces momentum as a plot tool, and creates a wholly interesting story, instead of putting all the weight on one foot.

Early on in the story, we are aware that Hannah and her husband had a baby, and something went so tragically awry that there is currently no baby. We aren’t given the full details until Cohen finds it useful to tell us. It creates a great early sense of suspense and eventual gratification, but the act of withholding information feels, frankly, a little cheap. It’s an age-old gimmick, but it’s a gimmick at best. It doesn’t change the story; it only changes our perception. Granted, it really does make us feel excited to sink our teeth into the truth, but any author can do this. I could write a book, and if I keep all the secrets from the reader instead of the protagonist, of course the reader is going to be surprised. What we have to discuss is if that’s a quality way to write a thriller, or if it’s a tired show trick to glaze our eyes over and make our jaws drop about information that we could have known in the first place? Obviously, it’s an author job to engage us, so this is a much larger conversation than can be had in one book review.

I’ve long grown tired of the standard protagonist of books like these: an unstable woman subject to the whims of a cheating husband. We all know her, and we’ve all seen her come out one too many times. Honestly, how many women with this degree of stress, secrets, and misplaced trust can possibly exist in the world? More often than not, I’m sure that a woman in this situation would kick that man to the curb, take no further bullshit, and move on with her life. But no. Too often, our old friend is shaken to her core, and thrown into a pit of intrigue.

Cohen’s book is wonderfully surprising and unique, but it does fall victim to this trope. Hannah is an unreliable narrator that fits the bill perfectly.

To her credit, however, Cohen doesn’t only provide us with one erratic narrative. She switches between multiple perspectives, including Hannah’s mother, Corrine, who is far and away my favorite voice. Corrine is a relatively mentally healthy divorcee. She doesn’t harbor too much emotional weight, and she happily takes the role of private eye to ensure her daughter’s safety. She digs deep into secrets, but we can trust the information she brings to the surface. This is such an interesting tool, and it totally redeems any of the dull edge that comes with using a crazy, abused female as your lead character.

They All Fall Down is edgy, intriguing, and unique. She utilizes a huge cast of characters to keep us guessing, but manages to emphasize a core few of darkly quirky figures we can attach to ourselves. The book subscribed to a few tried, true, and tired tropes of modern thrillers, but ultimately, it was a genuinely enjoyable and suspenseful story.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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