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The Appeal


The Appeal

I wasn’t sure that Janice Hallett’s THE APPEAL would be engaging. It is written in an epistolary format with no narrative --- just emails, text messages, transcripts of phone messages and police interviews. However, my fear that I wouldn't connect with the writing or the story was completely unfounded.

Within the first few pages, I was fascinated by the characters, the setting and the mystery. While novels often feature unreliable narrators or individuals who are not as they first appear, here we don't have anyone's narration to fall back on. We must rely on the words of the characters themselves as they reveal who they are and what they think of others. The actual murder doesn't occur until nearly three-quarters into the book, but there are other questions --- other mysteries --- that appear almost from the very beginning.

"Hallett does a fabulous job sharing insights into the various traits of her characters through their correspondence.... THE APPEAL is a fascinating, thrilling and complex novel."

We observe the British culture and its embedded class structure as the community comes together. One of the characters comments about the group: "...they're an insular bunch. Repressed, judgmental --- and they don't like strangers." Several are wealthy and own what seems to be the local manor home, which has a golf course. The owners, Martin and Helen Hayward, sponsor The Fairway Players, a local acting group. While Martin directs the plays, Helen is the leading lady. Always. The others defer to them and their extended family because of their success and stance in the community.

There are many people to keep track of, and Hallett kindly provides us with a list of names and descriptions. The action centers on Martin and Helen; their children, Paige and James, along with their spouses, Glen and Olivia; close friend Sarah-Jane MacDonald and her family; and Isabel Beck, a nurse who joined The Fairway Players. Peripherally, we meet Poppy, the daughter of Paige and James, who is being treated for brain cancer. Raising money for her treatment is central to the story and becomes part of the mystery.

Hallett does a fabulous job sharing insights into the various traits of her characters through their correspondence. We see what they write and what others write about them. It's easy to peg Isabel as someone who is insecure and awed by the Haywards and their social status. She is desperate for some attention but seems to have no idea how to behave at times. Also added to the mix is married couple Sam and Kel Greenwood, who were overseas in Africa working for Doctors Without Borders. Having recently returned to the UK under what we learn are suspicious circumstances, they play an integral role in the mystery, as does their connection to the brother of the doctor who is treating Poppy.

As the cover states, there are 15 suspects in the eventual murder. But for most of the book, readers wonder who the victim will be. There are so many to choose from and, dare I say, so many who might be considered deserving of their fate. We learn about the characters and their peccadilloes, and thanks to the lists, we can keep them straight. However, towards the end of the novel, the mystery gets a bit confusing. Perhaps my quick-paced reading made it more difficult for me to remember some of the clues that are referenced.

The story also revolves around three lawyers. One is worried that the wrong person was accused and convicted of the crime, and he is asking his two assistants to try to figure it all out. He knows what he suspects, but he wants to see if they come to the same conclusion before filing an appeal. He presents them with questions to answer, and readers will be motivated to go back through the "evidence" to try to ferret out those answers.

THE APPEAL is a fascinating, thrilling and complex novel. I suggest bookmarking the list of names to make it easier to refer back to when a new one pops up. By the end, we realize that there is one character who is a hero, one who has been duped, several who are truly reprehensible, and many good people. But Hallett keeps those answers close to her vest until the very end. Justice is served.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on February 4, 2022

The Appeal
by Janice Hallett

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982187468
  • ISBN-13: 9781982187460