reviewed by Pam Guynn
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 it is best that readers go in without all of the details as well.
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.
This book had a very large cast of characters that required notes as I attempted to uncover the truth and answer the senior partner’s questions. It’s the second book that I have read with an epistolary format in 2021 and it worked for me. Some of the correspondence is just gossip and 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, suspense was built as details were revealed.
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.
Overall, this was suspenseful with compelling characters that engaged my inner sleuth and kept me turning the pages. The occasional humor 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.
Atria Books and Janice Hallett provided a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for January 25, 2022.