The Twyford Code
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Steve Smith has just been released from prison after an eleven year spell for murder. Illiterate when he went in, he’s learnt to read and write and is determined not to return to his former life of crime.
Known as Little Smithy to his friends (as opposed to his father, Smithy, and his brother, big Smithy), he also wants to solve the mystery of what happened to his favourite high school Remedial English teacher, Alice Isles, who disappeared on a day trip to Cornwall with his class.
When he was 14, Steve found an old children’s book on a bus. He showed it to the teacher who recognised it as one written by Edith Twyford, a popular writer in the 1930s who wrote about a group of six children and their adventures. Despite Twyford’s books now being banned from school libraries because of their inherent racism and sexism, she read it to the class and later took them to Cornwall to visit the locations in the book as well as Edith Twyford’s cottage, before suddenly disappearing and leaving the bewildered children to find their own way home.
Now reconnecting with his four friends from that class, Nate, Michelle, Paul and Donna, he discovers that many of Twyford’s readers, including Miss Isles, believed a secret code was embedded in the book which would lead to a hidden treasure. With Lucy, a young librarian he met at the library, making up a gang of six, he sets out to crack the code and solve the mystery of Miss Isles’ disappearance.
This is a very original mystery, meticulously planned and written in an unusual style. In her debut novel, The Appeal, Hallett presented readers with a narrative composed of emails, letters, social media postings, newspaper articles and police reports and invited them to act as sleuths and form their own deductions. Here, she has followed up with another unusual novel composed of transcripts of recordings made on an old iPhone.
When he was still in prison Steve discovered he had a son he never knew about. Although the son, now a University lecturer in Maths came to meet him, he decided he wasn’t ready for Steve to meet his family, but gave his an old iPhone to keep in touch. Once Steve worked out how to use it, he recorded all his conversations and thoughts. The transcripts lead to some phonetic spellings and at first hard to recognisable words, making for an unusual format but one you soon get used to. Steve also relates details of his earlier life and upbringing, including how he came to become involved with the notorious criminal Harrison family, who in the end betrayed him, despite his loyalty to them.
This unusual format works brilliantly in narrating this mystery and becomes addictive reading, especially as Steve’s obsession about finding Miss Isles, morphs into something deeper. His irrepressible character shines through his recordings and his revelations about his life and times with the Harrisons. He shows himself to be much smarter than people give him credit for as he carries out a plan, he has had eleven years to perfect. The echoes of the adventures Edith Twyford (and her ilk) wrote about are delightful stuff with clues and codes, secret tunnels and signs, danger, shadowy characters in black, false trails and enough twists to keep any mystery reader happy. There is also a lot of subtle humour in the recordings and the twisty ending is sure to delight, which all adds up to a hugely engrossing and intriguing, fun read.
With thanks to Viper Books and Netgalley for a copy to read. Expected publication January 13, 2022