Janice Hallett’s sparkling debut “The Appeal” ended up at number 4 in my current Books Of The Year. I rarely go so overboard for a crime novel but I so loved its quirkiness, its characterisation and its misdirections which had me making the wrong assumptions all over the place within a work which felt both fresh and classic. At the time I did wonder if the author would be able to achieve this again with a second novel which had a similar unusual narrative style. “The Twyford Code” featured potential secret messages from an Enid Blytonesque writer which gave it great heart and although I felt it lacked a little bit in readability compared to the previous work, the cleverness of misdirections led to a highly satisfactory reading experience and a four star rating. But would she pull it off a third time? I really hoped so.
“The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels” consists of research material for a true crime novel which is located in a safe. The author Amanda Bailey was commissioned to write a new slant on a case of eighteen years previous of a cult ritual suicide/murder which almost led to a baby being sacrificed. At the same time her one-time colleague and rival Oliver Menzies is commissioned to explore the same case for another publishing company. Here we get their e-mails, research, found materials including associated fiction and transcripts of interviews around the case. This is darker territory than the previous novels and I do like dark but I became less convinced as the book progressed that the theme suited this format as well as in the previous books.
The first half I was loving but then it felt like it was getting bogged down with too much material and I could feel my enthusiasm waning and the author’s extrication from this did not feel as impressive as it was in “The Twyford Code”. I wasn’t surprised to read that one of the acknowledged inspirations was Michelle McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” a true account of how an American true crime writer became obsessed with her work and there were references to other UK crimes and real life figures which I actually felt a little unsettling on this occasion.
There is still humour and great relish in the writing but this is undeniably darker and I must admit to missing the effervescent feeling I got from “The Appeal”.
Janice Hallett is a clever crime writer and has been a real find for me and does deserve Richard Osman comparable sales with her cunning quirky take on British crime, but didn’t quite hit home with this book in the way I was hoping she would. I’d be interested to see if she deviates from her format with her next book, I must admit to being a little nervous here about diminishing returns.
The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels was published by Viper Books on 19th January 2023. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.