3 stars out of 5
If there's such a thing as a poster child for "different strokes for different folks," this book is it for me. Largely because of all the pre-release rave reviews it received and the subtitle, "A totally enthralling, totally gripping thriller," I figured what's not to love? So it was that I requested, and received, a copy in exchange for an honest review with the full expectation that I'd enjoy it.
Within the first few chapters, however, my hopes began to fade; and by the time I reached the halfway point, I actually considered giving up. Not finishing a book just isn't in my DNA, though, so I kept going, fingers crossed every page of the way that it would get better. In fact it did - somewhat - but in the end it was clear this one just isn't my cup of tea. For the record, my actual rating is 3.5 stars; while I admit to agonizing over whether to round up or down (most review websites don't allow half-stars), I just couldn't in good conscience err on the more generous side.
So what's at issue here? I'll start with the positives - the first of which is that the writing, from a technical standpoint, is very well done. That's a huge compliment, given that I'm a stickler for such things and that it's not unusual to find misspelled words and incomplete sentences in books these days, even from big-name authors. And obviously, the author gave substantial thought to the plot; everywhere are twists and turns, most of which came as surprises to me (and no doubt contributed to the reasons for the high ratings from so many other readers).
The characters, too, are exceptionally well developed, starting with the family - Rob and Wendy Turner, their grown-up twin sons and adopted teenage daughter Georgia. Then there are the members of a cult-like group called the Brood led by a menacing young man named Gabriel (whoa, did anyone but me see the irony in naming someone so evil after an angel)?
It's an understatement to say this is a dysfunctional family; in fact, the author explains in his notes that creating flawed characters was his intention. With that, I have no problem, and at any rate I've always maintained that I really don't need to "like" characters to consider a book to be outstanding. I do, however, need to have some kind of feelings for them - even if it's just the desire to slap them all upside the head. But such was not the case here; almost from the git-go, I didn't give a hoot what happened to any of them. Their actions (or lack thereof) and angst-riddled dialog - maybe especially their words - for the most part seemed downright silly, especially given their dire circumstances. And those plot twists that should have been thrilling gave off a distinctly contrived vibe - bringing to mind the hucksters in TV commercials who shout, "But wait, there's more..."
All things considered, this is far from a bad novel - but alas, it just didn't work for me. So sorry.
All Fall Down by Tom Bale (Bookouture, September 2016); 359 pp.