Book Review: They All Fall Down

By Rachel Howzell Hall; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

The ultimate challenge in mystery writing is the locked room mystery, where the victim is found dead in a room locked from the outside with no other entrance or exit.

Agatha Christie surpassed that when she wrote AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1939), in which a group of unrelated people are invited to a remote island and are murdered, one by one. In this story, the murderer is dead before his victims are. It sold more than 100 million copies, and is considered one of the most popular mystery books ever.

Los Angeles-based author Rachel Howzell Hall has taken Christie’s tale and given it a modern spin. And this is not just a cosmetic makeover with new names and new places.

When Miriam Macy receives an invitation to be a participant on a reality TV show with a $1 million prize, she just knows it’s exactly what she needs to restart her life.

Thanks to an excellent attorney, Phillip Omeke, Miriam has dodged a long prison sentence for goading a teenage bully into suicide. But as Miriam arrives at Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, to board the yacht that will take her and the other contestants to Mictin Island, things start to sour.

When the group disembarks at the island, there’s no one to carry their luggage to the mansion. Once at the mansion, one member of the group, Wallace Zavarnella, steps forward and announces they have been brought to the island under false pretenses. They have been invited to participate in a memorial service for the attorney they have in common: Omeke, who died a month earlier of a brain tumor.

Yet even that is a ruse, the guests soon learn. From dinner that night, prepared by guest and executive chef Javier Cardoza, the guests, one by one, in amazing and baffling ways, all fall down – dead.

Hall has done an entrancing job of rethinking the hows and whys of the multiple mysteries involved in this twisted plot. She successfully manages that oh, so tricky, challenge of taking a character like Miriam, who has some despicable qualities, and managing to make her someone you can have sympathy for to the end.

Jeannette Hartman is the creator and reviewer for BookReviewsbyJeannette and Jewish-books-reviewed.com.

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