Book Review of The Appeal by Janice Hallett

I picked up The Appeal after randomly finding it during my search for books on Amazon. The concept gripped me – a book written in the form of messages, emails and texts where you could work out who the killer was as the evidence was presented. It is done brilliantly and could already be in my favourite books of the year list.

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The Appeal is all about a small group of people who are taking part in the local play which happens every so often. Every single interaction we see in the book is done via emails from different members of the play and then some external characters too to helo build a narrative and give some clues towards the eventual murder. It’s utterly gripping.

The Appeal plot – 5/5

The Appeal takes us through the lives of 15 different characters who are all, in some way, playing a part in the town’s upcoming play, either as part of the cast or because they’re friends with the Hayward family who are running the play. A narrative quickly forms that one of the Haywards’ children becomes sick and the attentions of everyone must slightly veer towards raising a vast amount of funds to help get special treatment for the little girl, Poppy.

For the first half of the book you follow this – reading email exchanges between a lot of the characters, quickly building up an idea of the type of people they are, how they view each other and also getting an insight into some of the imperfections that form and some of the secrets they hold.

The message exchange between each of these characters had me so gripped. Due to their shortness, it’s so easy to just read another email and then another and then another. And then someone reveals “something happened at rehearsals last night” and then you have to read on to find out what happened. It had me hooked.

I will admit, the first half of the book is mostly building up to the eventual murder. However, this is on purpose. Essentially – each of these emails is a clue into the psyche, the personality and the characteristics of these characters. They also give us clues as to previous interactions, any secrets they may have and so much more – so pay attention.

The final third of the book is phenomenal. Essentially, two law students, i believe, are helping their professor or head lawyer to solve the case and so every now and then show you text messages between the two showing their thoughts so far. The final third is essentially their professional notes, theories and summaries of everything that’s happened. Hallett has done a wonderful job here in making this feel like a real case, one where if you were a detective or lawyer yourself reading the book, you’d have worked out the same things these two law students did.

The Appeal characters – 5/5

You can’t write email exchanges between two characters if they’re going to be dull exchanges. Luckily, Hallett manages to make them brilliant. Each and every character in this book has such a defined personality. Sarah-Jane is the stern, says it how it is, hard-working one who isn’t afraid to step on toes. Issy is the slightly obsessed, needy one. The haywards are slightly more serious, business-like characters. A lot of the time, I could understand who was writing the email without even reading the “from:” dialogue at the top.

If you’re worrying that having this many characters in the book may get confusing, Hallet has a few clever ways of making them fairly easy to remember. Early on, as part of the study, Hallett lays out each character and their relationship to one another, allowing you to take a mental note of this. Secondly, the way they speak to one another using affectionate tones for people who are their family or loved ones is well done too. Using the terms of endearment or the informal way they speak to one another instead of finishing an email as formally as with others.

The way Hallett has defined these characters – made loveable ones and made despicable ones by only allowing them to email one another is a truly incredible talent. So much discipline must have gone into crafting these lives and people, you have to take your hats off.

The Appeal summary – 5/5

Yes, I do believe that The Appeal deserves a round of five stars. Everything about this book is utterly spectacular – it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. Hallett has finely woven an utterly gripping, yet believable cast of characters into an intelligent and disciplined plot whilst doing it all in a way that has rarely (if ever) been seen in literature before.

If you want to read a mystery this year, there are none I would recommend before The Appeal so far. You’ll be hooked from the very first page until the last in a way that I’ve rarely meant more before.

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