Simon & Schuster | 2019 (2 May) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
Pneumonic plague has returned to Europe. The first case, Vittoria Fornero, fell ill fast. The terrible symptoms leaving her dead in a matter of hours. Dr Alana Vaughn, an infectious diseases expert with NATO, is urgently called to Genoa by Nico, Vittoria’s doctor, and an old flame. Alana, Nico and Byron (Alana’s counterpart with the World Health Organisation) must hunt down everyone this woman came into contact with and that means turning her workplace upside down. Vittoria had been project manager at a big building site in the heart of Genoa. She was responsible for the demolition of a monastery many centuries old, a monastery whose monks, centuries before, experienced the Black Death, which killed almost half the population of Europe. With further cases of plague being reported by the hour, Alana and her team have a race on their hands to stop history repeating itself.
I loved the premise of We All Fall Down! I’m a big fan of disaster books, with their hint of something apocalyptic in the future while looking back at something devastating that happened in the past. It immediately grabbed me. Most of the novel is told from the perspective of Alana Vaughn, a doctor troubled by her experiences fighting Ebola in Africa. She can’t bear to witness similar scenes and will do all in her power to save these lives. She’s a worthy heroine and she caught my interest. She has a history with Nico, the hospital doctor in Genoa, and that adds something extra but it’s low key and never challenges the novel’s main focus – the plague.
Threading through the novel, though, is another story. Rafael Pasqua is a barber surgeon in Genoa in 1348. He has lost his wife to the pestilence and now chronicles the plague’s cruel path through the city and beyond as well as his own efforts to care for those who are sick. I loved this layering of history and patterns are revealed, not all of which are to do with the disease.
I’m pleased to say that much of We All Fall Down is science-based. We’re given little glimpses of personal stories but the emphasis, especially in the first half, is on the science of the disease and the methodology to prevent it spreading. During the second half of the novel, the hunt to discover the source and to prevent its spread becomes dominant, taking us into more familiar thriller territory but, nevertheless, this was also very entertaining, if a little more far-fetched. The novel as a whole, though, is not sensationalist. In fact its mood (and content) is at odds with the book’s description on Amazon. It doesn’t present panic. Its emphasis is on the medical challenge and is all the better for it.
I found We All Fall Down very hard to put down. Daniel Kalla writes well and the tension and sense of urgency is maintained throughout. The premise was great and the thriller fully delivers. Excellent!