Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Title: The Appeal
Author: Janice Hallett
Publication: Viper, paperback, 2021
Genre: Mystery
Setting: Present-day Britain
Description: Two law clerks, Femi and Charlotte, are working for a British appellate lawyer. His client has been arrested for murder and he gives these young women all the documents from the case, hoping that without any preconceptions they will help him find the evidence of a different killer in time for the appeal. Reviewing dozens of emails, the young women follow members of an amateur theatrical company that was performing All My Sons by Arthur Miller and find a lot of suspicious behavior. One of the cast was murdered and there are now 15 plausible suspects. Can the reader figure out what really happened faster than Femi and Charlotte?

My Impression: This is an entertaining murder mystery that reminds me of those parties where everyone is assigned a character and one is chosen to be the killer.  The story centers on a group of thespians, particularly the Hayward family that stars/directs and Isabel Beck, a nurse, who likes to be part of the production despite limited acting skills. The cast rallies around the Haywards when their granddaughter gets sick and needs expensive treatment. Soon everyone is planning fundraisers but one person begins to wonder if there is a scam going on. The story is told so well that the reader forgets she is gleaning the narrative from a series of documents, which come with these instructions:
Please bear in mind:

1. Only a limited number of emails, texts, and messages could be recovered, so the correspondence is not complete.

2. It is, however, broadly chronological

3. I’ve included various extras – i.e., newspaper clippings, social-media activity and other sundries – in the pursuit of context.

4. If I come across anything else of interest, I will forward it to you.

See what you think.
Periodically, the law clerks compare notes and wonder what exactly is going on and, impressively, they begin to see a pattern and figure out what really happened in the gossipy town of Lockwood.

The combination of the epistolary novel and the mystery involving a small group, threatened by two newcomers, makes an unusual story and the parts about the theatrical production are amusing. I also appreciated the subtle but clever final email. This will be published in the US later this month.  This is my first mystery of the year in the Cloak and Dagger Challenge hosted at Carol's Notebook.
Source: I was very curious about this because it was the Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year so I purchased for my sister but obviously had to vet it before wrapping.  Some people are comparing it to The Thursday Murder Club - one enormous difference is that book is full of engaging characters while no one in this book was very likable.  So I would say enjoyable but only a 3/5.


Lory said...

I've put a library hold on this for when it comes out. I prefer mysteries with likeable characters but the premise of this one sounds interesting enough to keep me engaged. We'll find out!

TracyK said...

I plan to read this sometime but am in no rush right now. I like the different approach.

Nan said...

It is a clever idea, and for some reason, I think someone like Agatha C. might have pulled it off beautifully!
And I quit The Thursday... book very early on.
Terrific review, though!

Helen said...

I've just started to read Janice Hallett's new book, The Twyford Code, which is out in the UK this month. I love what I've read so far, so if I continue to enjoy it I'll look for this book too.

Lark said...

This does sound like a fun book. And I love anything epistolary! Here's hoping my library has a copy. :)

Lory said...

Update: I got a review copy from Netgalley and read it in one day (actually one late night)! It was an entertaining, if rather implausible puzzle. I'd read another book by Hallett but wonder if she'll try a more conventional narrative, or do somthing fresh again with the epistolary format.

carol said...

This sounds fun. I'll have to add it to my list.

CLM said...

Sometimes it is fun to read something a lot of other people are reading. Often the books I read are oldies but goodies.

I think I read about Hallett's second book, The Twyford Code, first but decided to start with this one for my sister. It was definitely fun and I too like epistolary (and when modern emails and texts are included, that can be entertaining, although I don't like it if forced to read illiterate texts). Lark, your library will probably order it soon. Tracy, this will appeal to Christie fans but it can wait until you are in the mood for a puzzle.

Lory, did you think the appellate lawyer gave the assignment to the law students because he knew or guessed what had happened and wanted them to find the proof (or at least the plausible explanation) or was it just an exercise to see if they could analyze and find the same answer he had?

Karen K. said...

I received this for Christmas and read most of it in one day! Interesting premise, especially as I'm currently involved in community theater. It looked long but was a very fast read, probably because of the way the emails and texts were broken up. But I've already forgotten about that final email and now I have to go back and look it up!

CLM said...

Karen, I remember in sixth grade we studied Romeo and Juliet along with West Side Story, and my teacher (otherwise forgettable) said two things that stuck in my mind. One was that an actor has to choose whether to be Romeo, the traditional lead, or Mercutio and steal the show. He also told us that when he saw West Side Story on Broadway it ended with shock/sorrow at the deaths of Tony and Maria but included one gang member kicking a rival to show that the feuding hadn't really ended. Similarly, the ending of the Appeal showed that Izzy had found someone new to admire, not having learned her lesson, so the cycle would continue.