Janice Hallett’s ingenious new thriller, THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE ALPERTON ANGELS, could be the beginning of a new form of storytelling. Using only correspondence, WhatsApp messages, interviews, research, emails, and news clippings, Hallett’s narrative never falters. She invites the reader to be an amateur detective. Hallett begins with a hair-raising choice. A safety deposit box contains all the documents and research about the case, and we are told that we must read all the contents and then decide to…
REPLACE THE DOCUMENTS AND THE BOX, THEN THROW THE KEY WHERE IT WILL NEVER BE FOUND…
TAKE EVERYTHING TO THE POLICE
Who can refuse? We first join journalist Amanda Bailey in an email exchange with her agent. Amanda is tired of writing about crime and wants to write a novel. Her agent, however, dangles the idea of writing about the Alperton Angels cult from a different angle for a new series of crime books. The Alperton Angel cult once believed a baby born to one of its members would grow up to destroy humankind. They planned to sacrifice the baby, but their plans were thwarted, the baby was rescued, and the cult committed mass suicide.
How about finding the Alperton Angel’s baby who is now eighteen? What happened to the child over the years? Does it know its history? Amanda is hooked. Wouldn’t readers love to read about that?
Unfortunately, Oliver Menzies, an old associate of Amanda’s, plans to write a book from the same angle. Amanda is furious. The only solution their agents can see is for the two of them to join forces. Amanda can’t stand Oliver. He’s a practical joker, uncooperative, and not good at his job. Amanda can dish it out almost as good as she gets, making the competition fierce. Ellie, Amanda’s good friend, confidante, and transcriber of audio interviews, keeps her sane and writes her thoughts on the transcribed pages.
One of the people Amanda and Oliver most desire to talk with is Gabriel, the leader of the cult who survived the mass suicide and is in prison for the death of an Asian man. Gabriel’s voice—ask anyone—mesmerizes. Even Oliver, who nabs the interview with Gabriel, falls under his spell.
The story misdirects and takes sharp twists as the investigation leads to retired detectives and social workers, screenwriters and producers of documentaries on the cult, social media amateur detectives, online murder clubs, true crime fanatics, authors of books about the cult, a monastery, and the site of the suicides in Alperton NW London.
Amanda and Oliver soon find that much of the old case findings doesn’t add up. The closer they get to finding the “baby,” the more dangerous it becomes. People they contact who have information die in house fires that destroy their files or in accidents. Who is this grown-up baby? What really happened with the cult? Why was the Asian man killed? What aren’t people telling them? Why are their contacts dying? Amanda’s friend Ellie fears for her safety and rightly so.
THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE ALPERTON ANGELS went right to the top of my favorite books of all time. Every character felt real and substantive, even with its form of storytelling. Amanda and Oliver viciously compete, and you know they have a “history.” Ellie acts as the voice of reason for the impulsive, driven Amanda. Even though the book has a long list of characters, many of them minor, all of them feel necessary to the telling of the story and to the plot, an amazing feat of writing.
The book could be called a murder mystery, a procedural, a suspenseful puzzle, a cult thriller, and a cold-case crime story, but it falls squarely in the noir category with its two detective journalists, its dark underpinnings about today’s culture, and an ending that stabs you in the gut.
Thanks to NetGalley, Atria Books, and Janice Hallett for providing an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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