The Appeal by Janice Hallett is a crime fiction and debut thriller novel first published in 2021. It currently has an average rating of 4.06 on Goodreads, and I have rated it 5 stars.
The novels open with two law students receiving a bundle of papers from their boss QC Roderick Tanner, they are tasked with a way of proving from the heap of correspondence within them his client is innocent for the murder they were convicted of. With no clues as to the victim, real murderer and client the two students shifts through hundreds of correspondence to try and solve the mystery, whilst being confronted by more mysteries and scandals along the way.
I picked this up after my boss at work recommended it, and boy, that woman has taste. I’m not usually attracted to crime or thriller novels, but this may have convinced me to branch out in the genre a little bit more. This was one of my favourite reads and debuts of last year, and Hallett’s next book is sitting on my anticipated 2022 releases list because of it, and I’m pretty sure she may be my next auto-buy author.
The book opens rather strangely with the introduction of two law students who receive what must be piles upon piles of documents from their boss, who is representing someone wrongly convicted for the murder they’re now investigating. It was a very intriguing opening and not one I’ve seen before, but what’s truly unique is Hallett chooses to give nothing away about this client – no name, no gender and no helpful descriptors so the students, and therefore, the readers, are left in the dark. It’s an excellent premise.
The students, and us, are then tasked with going through hundreds of correspondence to try and figure out not only who this client is and how to prove they’re innocent of murder, but also the identity of the victim and their killer. It sounds like an insurmountable, quite arduous task, but Hallett makes it thrilling. Shifting through hundreds of emails and texts should have been boring, but it was immersive and I read this in the course of one sleepless night, too desperate to know all the answers.
The way I knew each of the characters inside out despite the format of the novel is true testament to the writing of the novel, as each was unique and fleshed out, even when the contrasting gossip from others would sometimes muddy the waters. You should be warned that you will need to keep track of the characters in this book, thankfully Hallett does provide a little character guide at the beginning of the book, which I quickly tabbed and repeatedly turned back to.
Not only was each voice distinct, they were funny, irritating and moving, as well as a lot of other adjectives. Every character made me feel something at some point, which is no small task considering there a lot of them (I’m really not overexaggerating here there’s quite a few). The irritating characters are done excellently, as at no point were they so irritating I didn’t believe them, or they drove me to put the book down, they were fun to read about and from the perspective of. To be honest, it was almost like eavesdropping on other people’s gossip about irritating people, not necessarily harmless but fun and unrelated to you in every way.
This book doesn’t just offer the mystery based around the murder though, there are plenty of smaller mysteries hidden in the correspondence we read, and I am honest when I say each one floored me (yes maybe if I hadn’t read it in one sleepless night I may have spotted one or two, but they are still brilliant). It really adds to the book and makes the reader believe they’re part of something real.
As well as this, the relationships explored and how these played in to each mystery was fascinating, especially as some were hidden despite the, at times, quite personal, correspondence we got to read through. I particularly enjoyed the investigation of how relationships work in a small community of people, as I myself live in a village, and know all too well what that looks like: the blind loyalty, the fear in questioning and the knowledge no secret is a secret forever in such a small group of people.
It’s clever and addictive and overall magnificent, it will become a classic and I believe it’s of a timeless nature with Hallett becoming an author to watch. I can’t recommend this book enough, and if you’ve been around a bookstore at all in the last six months, you’ll know booksellers can’t put it down either.