I wrote a while ago about my enjoyment of The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett, which I described as “a properly entertaining, very clever, puzzle box of a book”. So Hallett’s other two books were on my list, and given that I was about to embark on a long drive over easter, I downloaded The Appeal to listen to on my way to France.
Like The Twyford Code, The Appeal is constructed from fragments in epistolary style. Texts, Whatsapp messages, emails, and so on. The blurb says, “One murder. Fifteen suspects” so you have certain expectations. But, unlike a classic detective novel, the novel doesn’t begin with a murder. Two legal interns are tasked with ploughing through a lot of material looking for clues and seeking to exonerate somebody – only we don’t know who. We neither know who the victim is nor who the possibly wrongly convicted murderer is. So that’s the first kind of appeal, or the first meaning of the title.
The background is amateur dramatics: you can already imagine the petty jealousies, frustrations and mind games that go on in such groups. Again, this feeds your expectations. The narrative proper begins with the announcement of the next production, and the series of messages about auditions and rehearsals. As a reader/listener you start trying to work out who is going to get killed, and why. But then there’s a twist, as the other “Appeal” of the title is introduced. It’s a fundraiser… but again, while you might have expectations of what this will be about, Janice Hallett is quite prepared to keep pulling threads. She also has a tendency to cheat a bit, by withholding certain documents until much later in the book. So you’re kept guessing: even if you suspect what’s actually going on with one appeal, you’re never quite sure about what’s happening with the other. Who gets killed, who gets blamed, who really did it — and why?
The audiobook version is especially engaging because the publishers have employed multiple voiceover artists to read the parts. What you’re getting, then, feels more like a 12-hour radio drama than a conventional audiobook.
I enjoyed The Appeal so much that for the journey home, I downloaded The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, a third Janice Hallett audiobook. As with The Appeal and The Twyford Code, the narrative has an epistolary structure. This time, a true crime writer is commissioned to write about an old case in which two teenagers and their baby survive a cult mass suicide. Eighteen years later, the baby is about to come of age, and the author wants to uncover the redacted identities of the survivors, and investigate what really happened. But, there’s a problem: another author is working on a similar book, and there’s a history between them. A rivalry, some anger and bitterness about an event in the past, and therefore an extra urgency to get to “the baby” first.
As with The Appeal, the publishers effectively employ a range of voice actors, and this brings the text to life more dramatically than a single voice would. It also gets around the issue with The Twyford Code, which is that email headers etc can be a bit of a drag to listen to when all read in the same flat voice.
I really loved both of these audiobooks, which makes Janice Hallett three for three as far as I’m concerned. A great way to pass a journey.