Book Review

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

In a town full of secrets…
Someone was murdered.
Someone went to prison.
And everyone’s a suspect.
Can you uncover the truth?

Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood and ends with a tragic death.

Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered.

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

What an absolutely fantastic novel this is! I was hooked from the very first page, and I stayed up late – too late! – in order to finish it.  I really wanted to know how things would turn out and whether my own theories were correct. 

The premise of the novel is deceptively simple, and yet it works brilliantly to engage the reader from the beginning.  It’s a chance to play detective, something that I love, and it’s put together in such a way that the reader feels as though they are a part of the team trying to crack the case.  Little information is known at the outset. Someone has been murdered, and someone has been charged with their murder, but there are doubts as to that person’s guilt, and the reader doesn’t know who either one is until later in the novel. Enter Olufemi (Femi) Hassan and Charlotte Halroyd, two young solicitors (I think so, at least – their position isn’t entirely clear, but they seem relatively junior) who receive the evidence from the case and who, along with the reader, must read through that evidence and determine what happened and why. 

The evidence takes the form of various emails and digital messages from the residents of Lockwood presented in a broadly chronological order.  It’s amazing how much these emails reveal about the characters who we never actually meet, and Hallett does brilliantly to give each their own style and tone.  The communications give a real sense of a small-town community with a strict social hierarchy that has the Haywoods at the top right through to those on the periphery of the social order who seem to be barely tolerated. It’s apparent that there are tensions in the community, and there are plenty of secrets to uncover as loyalties are tested.  It’s a novel where it really could be anyone.  I was reasonably confident that it wasn’t Poppy (she’s three, and poorly) but aside from her, everyone is a suspect.  I found a real sense of pleasure in trying to untangle the various threads in my attempt to identify the guilty party. 

One element that I particularly like about this novel is that the reader knows exactly as much as Femi and Charlotte do.  There’s no sense of being led down a certain route, or of the hotshot detective discovering or observing something that’s just not visible to the reader.  The reader has exactly the same information that they do and the same opportunity to solve the case.  The reader is also party to the interactions between Femi and Charlotte – again in the format of digital messages – which form brief intermissions in the emails and messages.  They discuss what they’ve read and what questions they have, and I think that this also helps the reader to see what they might have missed but also to put another spin on events. 

The Appeal is a novel that evokes a golden age mystery in a very modern setting, bringing the epistolary format bang up to date.  The plot is wonderfully complicated, and I loved trying to figure out what was going on.  It’s a novel that I’m tempted to read again to see what I missed the first time around.  That said, I did manage to work out some elements of the plot but certainly not all, and I’ll admit to being distracted by the red herrings.  The Appeal is a brilliantly clever novel and an excellent take on the whodunnit.  I can’t recommend it enough and, even though it’s only January, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is highly likely to appear in my top ten books of the year come December. 

The Appeal is published by Viper Books and is available in hardback and digital formats now.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: