The Appeal by Janice Hallett

This is a cosy mystery with a difference – a modern epistolary with a murderous twist! Set in the little town of Lockford, an amateur dramatics society, The Fairway Players, are in the midst of putting on a performance of All My Sons, which is not going smoothly; running alongside this, a heart-wrenching, but questionable, charity appeal for an ill little girl called Poppy. Tragically, a murder has occured, but when we begin, the reader does not know who is dead or why it happened. From the blurb:

‘Roderick Tanner QC has assigned law students, Charlotte and Femi, to the case. Someone has already been sent to prison for murder, but he suspects that they are innocent. And far darker secrets have yet to be revealed…the murderer is in plain sight!’

Charlotte and Femi need to sift through the information, distinguish the truth from the lies, find the clues and avoid the red herrings. However, Tanner hadn’t just assigned the case to them, I felt like he had also assigned it to me! In a flash, I immersed myself into the world of The Fairway Players. Trying to stay impartial and look for the facts, I got cracking on solving the case.

The story is told through an array of emails, texts, transcripts, flyers, programmes and letters. I really loved the originality of this, and, as I worked my way through the book, I began to notice some subtle discrepencies which Hallett throws in for the eagle-eyed. Whilst certain characters initially appeared to be polite and sincere, upstanding citizens of Lockwood, behind closed doors their true colours began to show – either through what they said (or didn’t say!), a lie you spot they have told, or how they begin to manipulate the other characters. You very quickly warm to certain characters, or feel sorry for them, and even end up distrusting certain individuals from very early on in the game. My advice is do not make your mind up too quickly about who is shady and untrustworthy.

There are so many characters in this book, and your introduction to them is through an email or text exchange, which means that you do not get a typical descriptive insight into who is who (for example, what they look like, who they a linked to, how they are feeling). You are thrown into a melting pot of information and Hallett definitely makes you work for the clues – putting two and two together, and linking back information you have gleaned from previous correspondance, you are mimicking the actions of Charlotte and Femi.

It can be hard to keep track of who is who, and how they are related to one another, however, do not let this put you off – when I began to feel overwhelmed, I did not worry about keeping track of the characters. I just enjoyed reading the book.

At various points, Charlotte and Femi exchange text messages, sharing their thoughts. These are really useful points throughout the book which I appreciated, as they summarised the information gleaned so far and gave me some pointers as to what to look at next.

After a while, low-and-behold, certain major players began to come to the fore, through how they manipulated situations, or responded to others. It is also worth noting, not all the characters are likeable, but they aren’t meant to be – however don’t let that sway your decision as to who the murderer is too quickly!

You do not even know who is murdered until a good way into the book, so I was on tenterhooks – this was a good move by Hallett, as it meant I was looking for signs of disharmony with all of the characters and did not ignore a single exchange. It also meant I ended up distrusting nearly everyone at some point and found it very challenging to whittle down suspects.

The Appeal is definitely worth a read – I thoroughly enjoyed it, due to its original premise and how it made me work to solve the case.

One Murder. Fifteen Suspects. Can you uncover the truth?

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