The idea of basing a book on another author’s work is nothing new, it’s been around a long time. Think about all the retellings of Ulysses, King Lear, Jane Eyre, and Cthulhu. Each one of these has its own cottage industry. In the mystery world, we have the copyright-free Sherlock Holmes, books written in the worlds created by recently-deceased authors, and Agatha Christie. Which brings us to Rachel Howzell Hall’s “They All Fall Down” (Forge Books), a rework of Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.
Christie’s novel is known for its story as well as its racist past. Both may be reasons why Hall decided to rework “And Then There Were None”, even Hall’s title plays off Christie’s historically wrong-headed titles with another nursery rhyme. Yet, each tale ends in the same place.
Last summer I picked up the first book in Hall’s Detective Eloise Norton series, “Land of Shadows”, which I loved and ended up buying the rest of the series. When I opened “They All Fall Down” I was split on what to expect, something gritty like Hall’s Norton series or a cozy like the original Christie novel. I was wrong on both fronts. I heard Hall refer to her new novel as noir which it is, but it also has the bells and whistles of a psychological thriller without falling into the latter’s clichéd trappings.
The narrator of the book is Miriam Macy, and, yes, she is an archetype of the unreliable narrator but I’ll say this about Miriam, she lives her truth, whatever that means when people say that. From the first few pages, we learn that Miriam is kind-of on the run from the law, the reader is unsure whether she’s actually fleeing or the cops just want to talk. Miriam’s narration leaves us with the feeling that we don’t know what really happened back in Los Angeles. Though we are only being fed bits of Miriam’s past, the reveals come out slowly and naturally. With Miriam, Hall has created a character that behaves consistently throughout even when at the end of her tether. We don’t know where Miriam will end up.
The other mainstay of the psychological thriller is the twist . . . I mean THE TWIST. Hall doesn’t play with that and it could be for two reasons, first that her book’s origins–this is a well-known story after all–and the second, which is more likely, is that Hall is that good of a writer, so confident in her skills that she does not have to rely on the sleight of hand.
Hall populates “They All Fall Down” with interesting and strong characters. I’m not going to list off the cast of the book here, I’d rather have Hall introduce them and for you to form your own opinion of them. Hall’s “They All Fall Down” is as entertaining as it gets while watching someone spiral out of control–and in this book that means everybody.