Score 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Stumble & Fall is a thought-provoking, spirited psychological thriller by Amy Rivers. It tackles the heavy and sadly still-relevant topic of human trafficking as well as corruption, sexual abuse, and grooming. With some strong female leads, some vile villains, and a compelling plot, this novel is certainly a fine read.
One thing that we didn't realize until it was perhaps too late is that this is the second in a series of novels that follow these particular characters, mainly Kate, her husband, Roman, and her sister, Tilly. So, there was a little bit of a feeling like we were missing some context, but definitely not enough to ruin the experience. It was helpful that the author still referred to what had happened in the previous book.
From what we gathered, Roman was an honorable and faithful police officer who tried to execute his duties to the best of his abilities. We are sadly informed, however, that Roman's police department, particularly its chief, was corrupt. The chief had aided, abetted, and even profited from the human trafficking rings that Roman and Kate had been investigating. In an attempt to hide this corruption, the police chief fired Roman. And, with that, Kate lost her inside scoop as an investigative journalist and was forced to find another job.
So, our story begins with Roman and Kate in turmoil and pondering what to do with their lives now that their careers are effectively finished.
Drawing upon a background in psychiatry, Kate begins seeing clients who are in need of her expertise, many of them victims, particularly of sexual abuse. During a meeting with a client named Vickie, it becomes very clear that the human trafficking ring is still going strong, accumulating a growing list of victims including Vickie and Kate's loved ones who happen to be caught in crossfire. In addition, Kate is personally affected by the suffering of these victims as the survivor of abuse and rape herself. Flashbacks of these terrible events as well as thoughts about other victims keep Kate awake at night, so much so that sedatives fail to work.
Kate knows that there's nothing else to do but to fight the good fight: to seek information on the leaders of the human trafficking ring and step up for the victims, something which (at times) puts client confidentiality at risk. Kate walks a fine gray line for what she perceives to be the greater good. However, in the process, she puts herself, her sister, and her husband at risk as they become targets of these criminals who fight to conceal their activities.
This book features at least two solid villains, one of whom just makes your skin tingle and your forehead sweat when he's around. The other is a huge surprise we just can't spoil. We definitely wanted to see these terrible people stopped and the victims saved.
There were a few things that bothered us about this book. For one, this was clearly Kate's story, and all the other characters seemed to tag along like companions. Usually, it just seemed like they were superfluous and got in the way of her narrative. There were also a lot of down times. It's not so bad because this book still managed to be under 300 pages, but there were more than a few times when the characters just sat around a table talking and eating. Ironically, this was a problem we had with the other crime-detective stories this season. Why does everyone feel the need to sit around and stuff their faces while discussing a case? Wouldn't it be helpful to have your hands and your mind free?
It also didn't quite break into full-gear. It seemed stuck in 2nd or 3rd gear. That's not necessarily the worst thing, but the excitement never seemed to reach the fever pitch that we hoped from a thriller.
You could make the argument, perhaps, that several major characters are attached and involved in altercations, but these seem so sudden, sporadic, and fleeting that they don't hit the way they should. Imagine if there'd been build to an incident happening—a character feeling they're being watched, or finding blood on the floor, or finding a gun in the safe missing. Instead, a lot of these huge incidents are the equivalent of a spontaneous mugging on a street corner in their suspense. It happens, then it's done. One of the victims is able to face her attacker with near absolute confidence just pages after the attack happened. They do this in a private office with no one else around. Yes, you'd think that'd be tense (and it is), but it kinda ruins the weight of what had happened to her earlier in the book. It's almost like she shrugged it off.
Anyway, this book is definitely a worthwhile read for fans of crime mysteries and thrillers. It shines a light on one of the saddest issues that still exists in our day.
Check it out on Amazon!