Thriller Thursday Audio: The Appeal by Janice Hallett
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (January 25, 2022)
Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
Narrators: Daniel Philpott, Aysha Kala, Rachel Adedeji, Sid Sagar
The Appeal by Janice Hallett was an unusual mystery, but then the book was also written in an unusual way. Had I known just how unusual, I would have chosen to read the print version over listening to the audiobook, because I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.
In the close-knit community of Lockwood, a group of residents have gotten together to form the Fairway Players, a local theater troupe. They are mostly made up of amateur actors, led by Martin Hayward, who is the director, and his wife Helen, the lead actress. When their two-year-old granddaughter Poppy is suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer, the couple turn to members of the Players as well as the community for donations to help pay for an expensive experimental treatment.
But while most were happy to pitch in, a few have expressed doubts about the Haywards’ appeal for help. Sam, an actress new to the Players, is suspicious of the family’s unwillingness to divulge any details about Poppy’s new drug treatment. There are also questions about where exactly the funds would be spent. As the questions grow and tensions escalate, the situation reaches its boiling point on the night of the dress rehearsal for the Fairway Players’ new production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller. The next day, someone is found murdered, and though a suspect is arrested, there are hints that the real culprit may still be unidentified and on the loose.
The Appeal is written in the epistolary style, presented to readers as a series of text messages, emails, letters, and newspaper articles, etc. The novel’s introduction reveals the context: following the Lockwood murder and arrest, a team of two law students have been tasked by their senior barrister to investigate. In trying to piece together what happened, they have gathered all the written material relevant to the case and arranged everything into chronological order. Somewhere in this collection of documents is the clue to find the true killer.
While generally I love a good epistolary novel, especially a mystery, there were several issues with this one that made it more difficult to follow. One was the sheer number of people involved. In all, there must have been more than a dozen key players to keep track of, and unfortunately when your entire narrative is told through a pile of documents, unique character traits and personalities don’t tend to come through as well. There were only a handful of characters I found memorable, while all the rest became a jumble in the back of my brain. Introducing everyone also took up a lot of time, and as a result much of the first half was slower and given to preamble.
With the plot growing ever more complex, things also got more confusing, which wasn’t helped by the audio format. I’m admittedly better at retaining information when it’s presented visually, and I don’t doubt all the characters would have been easier to remember if I had read the print version, which might be something to consider if you’re interested in The Appeal and are contemplating which format to pick up. The audiobook definitely has some disadvantages in this case.
Still, all in all, I am very impressed with the author’s ambitious undertaking. The Appeal had the vibes of a classis whodunnit, but the way it was written felt truly fresh and unique. Despite some of the confusion it caused, I loved the epistolary format, and it was fascinating to see an entire murder mystery play out in a series of documents like that! If you’re a mystery fan looking for something clever and different, and are not afraid of authors who break the mold, I would recommend checking out The Appeal.