I’ve read several books this month (see my note at end of post) so I’m off to a good start meeting new goals. I decided to begin book reviews this year with The Appeal by Janice Hallett, a crime mystery drama, because it was released in hardcover yesterday in the US from Atria books!
BOOK REVIEW –
by Janice Hallett
UK pub 01/14/21 and 07/01/21 Viper
US pub 01/25/22 Atria (hardcover)
Summary, Per UK Publisher –
(because I like this one better!)
IN A TOWN FULL OF SECRETS
SOMEONE WAS MURDERED.
SOMEONE WENT TO PRISON.
AND EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.
CAN YOU UNCOVER THE TRUTH?
Enclosed are documents relating to the events surrounding the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons, and the tragic death of one of its members. Another member is currently in prison for the crime. We have reason to suspect that they are innocent, and that there were far darker secrets that have yet to be revealed.
We believe that the killer has given themselves away. It’s there in writing, hidden in the emails, texts, and letters. In the events surrounding the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick, and the question of whether that money was truly being used to fund her life-saving cancer treatment. Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth? Do you dare?
The standout debut thriller of 2021 that delivers multiple brilliant twists and will change the way you think about the modern crime novel.
I didn’t know how I’d feel about reading this book when I first started it, given it’s an epistolary novel. I wondered if it would be hard to follow or get lost in as much as I like with regular mysteries and thrillers, but soon enough I was immersed in the story being told through e-mail and other correspondence. It was as if I was a voyeur looking in, or perhaps, an additional solicitor sorting through the evidence along with those on this case (which the novel is framed around). In that regard, it became a fun game, hinging on my already investigative nature, and I was certainly caught up early in what I knew must be a mystery unraveling among a very interesting cast of characters.
We get to know those who feature with the most email correspondence the best – Issy, Sarah, Martin, James. The rest we are only given a view of based off other characters’ feelings (which is biased, of course, when you think about it) – but I did have my own feelings on quite a few of them! I don’t think it would be a read for you if you really love the feeling of being connected to characters. You have to be alright with unreliable characters, which I am, so it worked fine for me.
I mostly became invested instead in wanting to know what was going on with the charity appeal, who was going to be murdered, etc. – I enjoyed “watching” the characters interact within their various social circle hierarchy and trying to understand who might be possibly shady and why. I like suspenseful drama and this book certainly brought that – it’s fitting these characters were part of a community theater. It was hard to tell who was putting on the performances of their lives off the stage and into their emails, too – and as it unraveled, I found myself shaking my head at some of these characters! It also had me as a reader putting clues together and seeing which theory I aligned with, which made it a fun sort of mystery puzzle, which I adore. Hey, I became a lawyer, or detective, for a few days!
As far as any critical notes, about seventy percent into the book the author started a lot of info dumping, under the guise of the solicitors writing their various theories into a report. I wanted to skip much of it since I felt I had already gathered or understood a lot of it myself from the correspondence. I suppose I can understand why it was included, to wrap it up for us, but yet for me I could move past it. I think, in another format, it would have been better set-up as courtroom or dialogue scenario with the characters. Instead, it read like a long report, a legal report, which is how information was passed to the reader due to the epistolary format. That’s why this book would be a great tv show or film. As that it would light up. As the last half of the book went on, it also read as if it was written as a screenplay or stage play and could easily be converted. I’d watch any of the above!
I enjoyed the humor that came in text messages and such from the solicitors and their boss at times. The post-it notes as art on some of the pages was a good touch. The way we really could gather some personalities very well over emails showed excellent character development. There were some red herrings, strategically placed clues, and a twist or reveal that was shocking to an extent (though I had my suspicions!).
If you’re looking for a novel that is a simple mystery crime thriller you want to relax your brain with, this might not be it. Your brain needs to keep track of information in this one, which made it fantastic as far as I’m concerned. If you’re tired, rushed, or stressed, you might not be ready for this, so know yourself and be prepared in that regard.
Overall, a unique, enjoyable read that kept me guessing and thinking, had wit and humor in all the right places, was a study in the social hierarchy construct and its pitfalls, and would make an amazing tv show! It was certainly good enough to garner four stars because it kept me turning pages and wanting to get back to my reading time so I could continue in the drama and unraveling of the mystery. I was guessing some parts right up until the end!
I’ll definitely want to read more from Hallett in the future and look forward to it. I know her next book is available now for UK readers (so those who are my UK subscribers here, go get both!). I look forward to it also arriving in the US.
I thank Atria Books for the advanced copy for book news or review consideration.
Purchase, Read, Borrow –
I could not find this book on bookshop.org, though I recommend using it for books to support independent shops, as well as looking at your local indie bookstore (or asking them to order). Ask your local library, too!
Janice Hallett, Biography –
Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office, and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and cowrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal is her first novel.
Noteworthy Stuff –
For those who love covers like me. UK alternate covers – I LOVE!
Note to my readers: For 2022, I am trying to be more disciplined and cut social media use and other time wasters and instead increase my reading and my own writing again. I’m wholly behind on reviews of the past, especially these last few years, but as a mom who is very hands-on with my kids, a hardworking editor and public relations professional, being an author/writer myself, a cat mom, and maintaining my physical and mental health, I’m pulled in many directions. All I can offer now are my goals that include better reading organization and to not over-think reviews (which ones I do, when, and how). I’ll read what speaks to my mind and I’ll review and write and highlight what I can. I’ve made good progress on this so far, and positive attitudes around me will help that continue.