The second book in the Supervolcano trilogy, All Fall Down continues the saga of the dysfunctional and emotionally cold Ferguson family as they attempt to survive in a world drastically altered by the eruption of a supervolcano. Colin Ferguson is a fifty-something, plain spoken police detective in San Atanasio (a fictional working class suburb of L.A.) with a dysfunctional family. This second book of Turtledove's Supervolcano trilogy opens with Colin and his new bride, geologist Dr. Kelly Birnbaum, attending his youngest son's graduation from UCSB. After spending ten years in college, with his father footing the bills, Marshall has sold a few stories to magazines but has no other marketable skills. In the wake of the eruption, the job market has crashed and burned along with the American economy in general. With no prospects, Marshall moves in with Kelly and Colin with the understanding that he will spend several hours a day writing and pay a third of whatever he earns as rent. They all have a "don't ask, don't tell" understanding about Marshall's severe marijuana habit. Kelly has switched from marijuana to beer in deference to her husband.
Meanwhile, Colin's oldest son Rob is snowbound in the tiny town of Guilford, Maine, with his indie band Squirt Frog and the evolving Tadpoles and is getting fond of his life there. Colin's daughter Vanessa, who barely escaped death in Denver when volcanic dust covered that city, continues to trade sexual favors for small comforts in a wretched refugee camp in Garden City, Kansas. Louise, Colin's ex-wife, who found herself pregnant at age 50 and deserted by her much younger lover, Teo, gives birth to James Henry. Louise works at a ramen noodle factory and Colin arranges for Marshall to babysit for his new half brother even though Marshall is estranged from his mother due to her desertion of Colin. Marshall agrees only so he can have money to buy dope. Dr. Bryce Miller, Vanessa's ex boyfriend who remains Colin's best friend, gratefully begins a job as a grant writer after finding no other employment available although he continues to hope for a university position. His new girlfriend, Susan, is completing her PhD in classical literature.
Colin is the detective in charge trying to solve the ongoing case of the South Bay Strangler, a serial killer who rapes and murders elderly women but leaves not a clue except DNA evidence that matches nothing in the database. The strangler strikes again.
In the first book Colin was passed over for Chief of Police for Mike Pitcavage, Colin's rival who is more politically savvy than Colin and has movie star good looks and grooming. Mike asks Colin to secure a convoy of gasoline that their department plans to hijack from the LAPD with a tank and a SWAT team. Pitcavage has the connections but Colin has the military background. After an armed confrontation with LAPD in a rainstorm, Colin delivers the gas. Vanessa's miserable refugee camp is closing because volcanic ash is threatening the location and the people are being moved to yet another miserable camp. Tired of trading sex for small returns, Vanessa turns one final trick in exchange for a place on a scavenging team. She and her team are transported
closer to the eruption to scavenge the ash-covered deserted homes for abandoned property and to do burial duty. Sometimes they are fired upon but most homes are abandoned. She actually enjoys her new job even though she can't seem to get along with anyone anywhere. However, she is miffed that this supervisor isn't interested in her body.
In Guilford, Rob and his band begin to date local girls as they learn to hunt, fish, and chop wood. The weather has changed so drastically all over the country that it appears the snow will continue all summer just as the rain will continue in LA. He falls in love with a high school teacher named Lindsey. Bryce secures a job teaching Latin in a Catholic high school and he and Susan decide to marry. Kelly travels with the US Geological service to view the 600 cubic mile crater left by the supervolcano eruption in what used to be Yellowstone National Park. Bryce finally lands a job at the University of Nebraska so he and Susan move there.
The catastrophic effects of the eruption finally reach LA. Colin buys Marshall a manual type writer at an antique shop so he can write during the frequent rolling blackouts. Even though Marshall balks, he learns to use it. There is no longer electricity for video games so Marshall and his friends learn to play board games. Since gas stations rarely have gasoline to sell, Colin and Bryce bicycle to work while Louise walks and Kelly takes the bus. Everyone reads by candlelight at night. The ramen noodle factory closes so Louise loses her job. Colin finds out Kelly is pregnant so he tells Louise he can't help her out financially anymore. Louise has a miserable time at the unemployment office. People begin to commit crimes just to get arrested so they can eat and have shelter. The Strangler strikes again without leaving a clue. Chief Pitcavage shows up at the scene this time and takes charge.
Vanessa takes her wages and the money she has been stealing from houses and bodies and skips out on her team. She hitchhikes to Oklahoma City, buys a used car and hits the road for LA. Talking her way through roadblocks, she stops for gas in New Mexico and meets a Croatian freedom fighter turned truck driver named Bron. They exchange phone numbers and she hits the road. Arriving in LA she moves in with Kelly, Colin and Marshall, much to Kelly's dismay. Louise borrows money from Colin. Her baby calls Colin "uncle". Bron shows up to date Vanessa who finds herself madly in love with him. Colin is frightened by him. Vanessa can't get along with anyone but Bron. The stores are out of meat and anything fresh. Colin trades gas for rabbits so his family can eat. Susan and Bryce find that Nebraska has electricity, gasoline and other amenities lacking in LA. Marshall struggles to write a novel.
In Maine, Rob and the locals make fun of the CNN news team that arrives by dogsled. He marries Lindsey and decides to stay in Maine for the rest of his life because he has become a better man. He sends a postcard to his mother announcing the wedding. In LA, Kelly gives birth to a daughter, much to Vanessa's dismay. They fight constantly with Colin staying out of it until Vanessa wakes up the baby then he lays down some rules. Vanessa gets her old job back and makes plans to move as soon as possible. Marshall ,who is close to his stepmother, confides to her that he and his friends buy drugs from the chief of police's son, Darren Pitcavage. She encourages him to confide in his father so he does. Colin confides to his partner and another detective. They set up a sting to catch Darren in the act without letting his father know because Mike always pulls strings to get Darren out of trouble.
Louise finally finds a job in a small pharmacy. Colin and partners bust Darren for felony possession, illegal weapons and other felony charges. His father goes crazy screaming that a DNA test will kill Darren's mother. That night the chief commits suicide. Everyone blames Colin, believing that he busted Darren so he could get the chief's job. Colin is uninvited to the funeral. While everyone is at the funeral, the lab calls Colin and tells them that Darren's DNA kind of matches the Strangler's DNA. He and the lab discover that the chief was actually the Strangler. This was the real reason he covered for Darren all through the years and also freaked about a DNA test. Everyone forgives Colin and he is made acting Chief of Police. Colin calls Bryce and relates the story. Kelly suggests Marshall turn the whole thing into a novel. Colin does an interview on the news explaining how he solved the case of the South Bay Strangler.
Best part of story, including ending:
This is a long book that is heavy on soap opera type details and light on action. It really drags on without very much at all happening to hold the reader's interest. It is disappointing that such a fertile concept never produces anything but bland details. It is written in a very disorganized manner so it is difficult to keep track of the many boring and unlikable characters. Only one character is even remotely likable and he is a toddler,Louise's "bastard" baby. The Ferguson family values seem to be non-existent. The ending is so far fetched it's ridiculous. Why would a young, handsome, wealthy, politically well-connected, smooth talking, popular chief of police (who has a gorgeous wife and is meticulous about his grooming) spend years raping and murdering eighty year old women leaving his DNA all over the place?
Best scene in story:
In my favorite scene, Kelly describes the supervolcano eruption to her college students. She explains the vastness of the destruction, the history of supervolcanos, and the probable effect the eruption will have on the future of the planet and the global climate. The history she explains is fact based and the future she predicts stirred my imagination.
Opinion about the main character:
Colin is emotionally unavailable, self-involved, arrogant, self-righteous and cynical.