Title: The Appeal
Author: Janice Hallett
Published: 14th January 2021
Genres: Thriller, Fiction, Legal, Legal Thriller
Start Date: 3rd October 2022
Finish Date: 8th October 2022
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 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 Appeal by Janice Hallett is her debut novel and its epistolary format may tempt amateur sleuths to work alongside the two junior lawyers tasked with sorting through emails, texts, newspaper clippings, social media activity, messages, letters, and police reports which make up the narrative of the book to answer the senior partner’s questions which change over time. As Olufemi (Femi) Hassan and Charlotte Holroyd read, took notes, and sorted through the various information, so did I. They are kept in the dark initially as to the true nature of the case and readers should go in without all of the details as well. The format of The Appeal won't be for everyone and at first, I felt overwhelmed by the large cast of characters. But fear not, we get a list of the players at least twice to help us keep things straight. Some of the correspondence is just gossip; others provide key information if one reads them carefully while others seem enigmatic or irrelevant. But are they? To my surprise, given the format of the narrative, the suspense was built as details were revealed.
A local theatre group, The Fairway Players, are getting ready for Arthur Miller’s play, All My Sons when tragedy strikes the family of Martin Hayward, the director, and his wife, Helen, the play’s star. Their granddaughter has been diagnosed with a form of cancer. An experimental treatment costing a large amount of money may be the only thing to save her life. Their friends and colleagues support them by babysitting, dog-sitting, and fundraising. However, accusations, fights, and a dead body bring a mystery to life.
The plot is clever and somewhat convoluted, requiring more notes to keep things straight. The epistolary dialogue is well-crafted. Even the main characters become fully drawn and unforgettable. The last-minute evidence added after an initial report back to the senior partner clarified some things. Did I get all of the questions answered correctly? No. However, I did arrive at several of the answers. How will you fare? Will you be able to pick out details and make the connections? Several themes were woven into the novel including social hierarchy, social exclusion, friendship, family, community, stress, obsession, jealousy, and much more. The others would be spoilers.
You need to pay attention to everything! If you don't you could miss important clues but also you could miss some fun tidbits. I felt like I was a fly on the wall, getting to peek into these people's lives, but I also knew that much of what was being written was meant to deceive. It's just that, it isn't clear just who is in on the deception or not. And then there is Issy who is one big mess of weirdness, contradictions, lies, and creepy clinginess.
It was so hard to put the book down because we have all these short snippets of information, it was so easy to say "just one more" and keep going an hour after I needed to be in bed. Towards the end of the book, it can seem like an information dump but it's information I wanted to know. And then there is the last chapter where we see that life goes on in the most creepy of ways. Overall, this was suspenseful with compelling characters that engaged my inner sleuth and kept me turning the pages. The occasional humour helped as well. It’s an impressive start for a debut novel. I am looking forward to reading more from this author. If you are looking for a mystery with twists, plenty of suspects, and lots of motives, then this is one you may want to check out.