A book from my “What I Should Have Read in 2021” list. I could see the potential of what is being promoted as a modern day Agatha Christie but had slight concerns that its reliance on e-mails, text messages and post-it notes might make it gimmicky with the whole style over substance debate threatening.
I needn’t have worried. If we are considering this debut in the “Cosy Crime” genre then this is the best “Cosy Crime” book I have ever read. Normally, mid-way through this type of book my attention wanders and I have to pull it back for the ending which I either find satisfactory or not. Here, I hung on every word, really focused on reading between the lines and found the whole thing extremely involving.
The structure is watertight. Written communication makes up the entire book, also including local press reports, police transcripts as well as the aforementioned means of modern messaging. There’s a murder but not until about mid-way through and I loved not even knowing who the first victim was going to be.
The novel centres around an amateur dramatics group about to embark on Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and central character and bit-part player Isabel Beck is thrilled by the prospect. This time she has introduced a new couple to the group, nurses fresh from volunteering in Africa. Their dynamic challenges the established set-up of the group which revolves around the founding family, the Haywards. Focus is switched when a small child becomes ill and the society needs to divert to fund-raising and that is all I am going to say about the plot.
The forms of communication (there’s lots of e-mails) allows for bias and unreliable narrators a-plenty. Isabel is a great character who early on we glean comes across very differently in real life compared to her exuberant messages.
This book really had me thinking about minor plot details, spotting inconsistencies and having these confirmed or otherwise by the set-up of a couple of young legals reviewing the evidence.
I loved this and am fascinated where the author will go next. This work seems a real labour of love and is so tightly structured. It seems I won’t potentially have to wait too long as her next novel “The Twyford Code” has just been published. It apparently follows along audio transcripts so she is approaching it stylistically in a similar style. It will be interesting to see if she gets away with it twice or whether this book works so well as it is a fresh, original one-off. But for the time being, this is an excellent work, my first 5 star read of the year and one that even though I now know exactly what went on amongst the Fairway Players I would be very happy to read (between the lines) again.
The Appeal was published by Viper in 2021.