The Appeal is going to be a tricky book for me to review. I don’t want to give away anything that gives too much of an insight into the actual storyline or characters. It’s a small-town murder mystery based around two pivotal events: the amateur production of a play and the requirement of funds for a little girl’s potentially life-saving treatment.

What’s so innovative about this story is it’s told almost completely in emails and messages. I must admit to being simultaneously intrigued and wary of this format as I don’t always get on with epistolary novels, but I needn’t have worried. Hallett has made this such an addictive read with a feeling akin to peeping through a window and observing the (pretty unlikeable, to be fair) characters’ behaviour both first- and second-hand, and watching their stories unfold.

Through the various correspondence devices we learn how each character feels about the others and about the situations they find themselves in. We also learn the reason for the correspondence being collated and its relevance. We get to see it dissected and at this point the pace slows down somewhat, requiring a more considered, yet still fascinating, read.

In The Appeal nothing and nobody is what they seem. Even the title surprised me as it has more than one meaning. I have come to the conclusion I would be a terrible detective and am hopeless at reading between the lines. Janice Hallett, however, is a masterful plotter, pulling all of the different strands together with aplomb. It gives me a headache just thinking about the planning of this novel. This is an accomplished debut novel and a compelling mystery, with a very original style. I loved it.

Review by Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes

Publisher : Viper; Main edition (14 Jan. 2021)
ISBN-13 : 978-1788165280, Hardback