I bought The Appeal by Janice Hallett because I liked the cover. It looked like a historic crime novel, but it is actually a contemporary crime novel. The Appeal falls very much into the category of ‘cosy crime’, like Agatha Christie or Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, but that isn’t a bad thing. I absolutely loved The Appeal and couldn’t put it down.
In the small town of Lockwood, an amateur dramatics society is working towards a production of All My Sons. Meanwhile, a toddler has been diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. At the centre of both these events is the powerful Hayward family – founders of the Fairway Players and grandparents of little Poppy.
As rehearsals for the play continue, a fundraising appeal to raise £250,000 for experimental treatment in the USA is started. But raising that sort of money is never straightforward. Can anyone really be trusted when that much cash is at stake?
The book starts with Roderick Tanner QC asking law students Charlotte and Femi to look at the case. The case begins with the arrival of nurses, Sam and Kel, and ends with a tragic death. In the early part of the book, we don’t hear much from Charlotte and Femi, as the reader is going through the evidence with them.
The book is written entirely in the form of emails, text messages and the occasional newspaper clipping. As Roderick Tanner himself says, only a limited number of emails and texts could be recovered, so the evidence is incomplete.
Much of the evidence comes from Isabel, a young nurse and minor member of the Fairway Players. It is Isabel who introduces Sam and Kel to the community. She is enthusiastic about everything and sends long emails which largely seem to annoy other people. Most of them barely even seem to know her name or give her the time of day. How reliable a witness is she? How reliable a witness are any of them?
While it is clear the book is a review of the case and that a death has already taken place, it is a long time before we know who actually dies.
The Appeal is a very cleverly written novel, which keeps you guessing. The relative simplicity of the plot told through emails and text messages might lull you into thinking that the solution will be a simple one too. But there is far more to The Appeal and the people of Lockwood than it first appears.
I would recommend The Appeal to anyone, whether you are a fan of crime novels or not.