Book Review: The Appeal

The Appeal really should start with a warning, along the following lines: if you have anything you need to be doing (eating, working, kids’ homework, etc) then abandon all thoughts of them now.  Because it may be a well-worn phrase but this book is quite simply unputdownable … it’s utterly addictive.

mystery | thriller | crime

Rating: 5 out of 5.

the blurb


Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death. 

Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed. 

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered. 

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

Author Janice Hallett | Published by Viper Books on 14th January 2021 | 432 Pages (kindle)

I would like to thank #NetGalley and Viper Books for providing me with an advance copy of #TheAppeal in return for an honest review.

my thoughts

I was immediately intrigued by the book’s blurb as it held the promise of something new and rather exciting; a story that demands its readers become active participants, rather than passive followers.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Just as the blurb had tempted me, so too the opening pages hooked me absolutely.  

We start the book after the murder, after the court case, and after the conviction.  In fact, months have passed since it all took place, but Roderick Tanner QC is not convinced the conviction was a sound one, in spite of a full confession.  He’s poured over reams of documents and transcripts presented in the original trial, drawn a conclusion, and now he’s passing the bundle on to Olufemi (Femi) Hassan and Charlotte Holroyd to review it with ‘fresh eyes’.  

The Appeal is an extremely smart novel that tells the story of two appeals; one is a fundraising appeal, and the other is the appeal against a wrongful conviction. It boasts a large and complex cast of characters, but their roles and relationships are made easy to understand thanks to the careful cataloguing of them all by Tanner’s eternally patient assistant, Sandra, ostensibly for Femi and Charlotte’s reference – a clever touch by the author to help her reader get to grips with who’s who, whilst making it part of the book’s narrative.

What follows is a brilliant example of an epistolary novel, made up of a chain of sequential and overlapping emails, text messages, and telephone transcripts, between an eclectic group of individuals with one thing in common; the local amateur dramatics group called The Fairway Players.  The messages are mostly unguarded friend-to-friend communications, and under the fine-toothed legal comb of Femi and Charlotte, seemingly innocuous, off-the-cuff statements become rash, indiscreet, and ever so tantalisingly revealing.

Little by little we’re vicariously allowed to glimpse inside the private lives of The Players.  Simmering tensions and social hierarchies are brought to light, warts and all, revealing an almost school-yard esque competitiveness to be seen to be close to the ‘in crowd’.  With each email comes a distortion of the facts as you thought you knew them just moments before.  There are no chapters, just the sequence of emails, texts, press releases, social media updates, police interviews and so on … one after another after another …  and therein lies the book’s power to engulf you.  My desire to read ‘just one more email….’ was insatiable and I was practically tearing through the pages.

I’m unsure if this was intentional, but the performance being rehearsed by the Fairway Players is Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. It bears a striking, posthumous, similarity to the progress of the events unfolding in the character’s own lives, and is eloquently summarised by the journalist’s review of the opening night:

Arthur Miller constructs a play the way sculptor creates a three dimensional image from an amorphous chunk of clay. He shows us a basic shape. Then bends and stretches its contours, turns it for us to view alternate angles, gradually reveals its finer details until, finally, we can see for ourselves what it really is.

For me, this quote perfectly summarises what Janice Hallett has achieved here. I was astonished to learn this is her debut novel, and hugely enjoyed her refreshing approach to the mystery/thriller crime genre.  

The art of a twisty, slow-reveal is applied with admirable finesse, both to the storyline, and to each of the main characters themselves.  They don’t exist on the pages or in the narrative as such, but through the emails and missives they send each other.  Insecurities are laid bare and exploited, secrets new and old come out of the woodwork, and the old adage ‘the devil is in the detail’ proves itself to be oh so true.  There’s a wonderful humour throughout the book too; flippant quips between friends, fabulously inappropriate email footers, voice-to-text message faux pas, and Roderick Tanner’s faltering first steps with WhatsApp … all add up to an astutely observed character study of what it is to be human and caught unawares. I’m confident I’ve not laughed out loud so often whilst reading a legal-mystery book before.

So, if you’ve not got the gist of my overall impression of The Appeal, I perhaps ought to say it outright … I flippin’ loved it!  I’m a huge fan of (good) crime fiction, and having been gifted an advance copy through #NetGalley I’m over the moon to have (hopefully) introduced myself to the first of many great books from Janice Hallett.  Once I’ve completed this blog, and updated the all-important online reviews I’ll be skipping straight over to social media and my own messaging platforms to recommend this book far and wide.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Appeal is available to pre-order now from Waterstones in paperback and hardback formats, and Amazon in hardback, kindle and paperback formats.

author bio

Janice Hallett studied English at UCL, and spent several years as a magazine editor, winning two awards for journalism. After gaining an MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway, she co-wrote the feature film RetreatThe Appeal is inspired by her lifelong interest in amateur dramatics. Her second novel, The Twyford Code, will be published by Viper in 2022. When not indulging her passion for global adventure travel, she is based in West London.

You can connect with Janice on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Appeal

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