Friday, 4 August 2017
#TheyAllFallDown #TammyCohen #Review
She knows there’s a killer on the loose.
But no-one believes her.
Will she be next?
Hannah had a normal life – a loving husband, a good job. Until she did something shocking. Now she’s in a psychiatric clinic. It should be a safe place. But patients keep dying.
The doctors say it’s suicide. Hannah knows they’re lying. Can she make anyone believe her before the killer strikes again?
Gosh. I don't know where to begin. This book is incredible.
Tammy Cohen has a significant back catalogue and has also written a fantastic cozy crime novel under the name of Rachel Rhys but I have to say, this novel felt so accomplished, so polished, so confident and so fluent that I was absolutely blown away by it. The writing was faultless and I was utterly swept up in the narrative and carried along right until the very last word. This has to be her best novel yet. And she had set the bar pretty high already.
The premise - a killer in a psychiatric clinic - is in itself such an enormous hook and immediately throws the reader into an atmosphere of tension, suspense and intrigue but what really captivated me was the prose. Cohen is so eloquent and her writing is so striking that the reader cannot help but be consumed by the storyline and it's hard not to become fuelled with compassion for the characters. Her writing can not but provoke an emotive response from the reader.
This is a very different kind of setting from the previous novels I have read by this author and I was fascinated by her decision to set the story in a psychiatric ward. What is so delicious and compelling about this setting is that the protagonist and the characters on which you are relying to tell you the 'facts' are all "mad". Who can you trust? Who could possibly be reliable? Who is not going to be confusing reality with their delusions? As Hannah says,
"You don't have to be mad to live here but...oh, hang on, yes, you do."
But aside from testing the reader with unreliable narrators, if there is a killer on the loose, who is going to believe these girls? Who is going to protect them? Again, in Hannah's words: "people die all the time here....That's what makes it so easy for a killer to hide here, in plain sight."
Deeply gripping. Deeply troubling. Deeply unnerving. Cohen has really nailed it.
I think it was a very brave and bold decision to set the novel in this kind of location and to focus on characters who are suffering from complicated mental illness and seriously chronic conditions. But my admiration is not just because it is brave and bold but because it is brilliantly handled.
"Suffering from mental illness is like suddenly becoming a foreigner in your own country. Close friends and relatives start talking very loudly and very slowly in the belief that you might understand them better. They don't realise it's not the understanding that's the problem, it's the application. When everything that made you you has disintegrated, it's possible to make abstract sense of things without having the first clue how they might be relevant to you."
Cohen has not used this location for shock, for sensationalism or to steal the next number one slot as a shocking thriller, she has set her book here because it is completely relevant and necessary for the story she wants to tell and the themes she wants to write about. It is appropriate for the characters and as a place in which she can explore their issues, backstories and secrets.
It is a dark and intense read - of course it is, it is about psychiatric patients, but Cohen is an intelligent and thoughtful writer and she has struck a balance of weaving a great tale that explores families, relationships, heartbreak and guilt alongside more deeper psychiatric issues. She pushes the story to a higher level by exploring issues of boundaries, delusion, desire and self deception.
There is a good range of characters created in the novel too - not just in personality, role and purpose but also in terms of their illness and state of mind. Yet some of the most 'damaged' appear to be so observant and perceptive they often point out the obvious more ably that the doctors - and in a tone or style that is so caustic and so brutal it is quite exquisite to watch. There are some great suggestions about who or what madness and rationality look like should you wish to delve deeper or analyse further! In Hannah she has created a character who is sharp, intelligent, witty, sarcastic, someone we root for and yet someone riddled with complications. She fiercely delusional and even though I wondered if I shouldn't like her - and at times you don't - I really did like her a lot.
In the last third of the book, Tammy Cohen excels herself. The depth, the layers, the knitting up of all the unravelling madness into a cohesive conclusion is flawless. It simply blew my mind. This is an impressive book. It has all the elements of a perfect suspense novel and yet Cohen has taken this psychological thriller to the next level. She has achieved much more than just scaring us, teasing us with twists and turns and chilling us to the bone. This is a psychological thriller with huge integrity.
Yes reader, I did like it. A lot. I think this novel is perceptive; it shows a sound and respectful awareness and understanding of mental health, its traps, its destructive and malignant power and Cohen choses not to trivialise anything for a shocking twist or unreliable narrator. But it is also a right good read full of chilling characters, threatening twists, interwoven plot lines and intense moments of suspense and tension. As I said before, incredible.
They All Fall Down is published by Transworld on the 13th July 2017.
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