Thursday 2 November 2023


Book review: The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett [blog tour]

October was a truly festive reading month for me. But rather than devouring another romance book, this time around I returned to the fictional town of Lockwood, and particularly the Fairway Players from Janice Hallett's novel The Appeal as they gear up for their seasonal production. After all, no Christmas is complete without a dash of murder...

About The Christmas Appeal

It's the season for pantomimes and the Fairway Players are rehearsing for their rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. Tensions are running high as long-standing member Celia Halliday not-so-subtly tries to undermine democratically selected co-chairs Sarah-Jane and Kevin MacDonald, there are new members to the theatre society that still need to find their feet, one of the set pieces may be made from a dangerous substance, and everyone is still recovering from (or gossiping about) the murder and mayhem from just a few years prior. Add in drug deals and a dead Santa, and you've got one hell of a production.

My review

Let me start by saying that I absolutely adore all of Janice Hallett's books. The amount of times I've recommended and gifted The Appeal over the years is actually quite ridiculous (as a matter of fact, I already have another copy waiting to be gift wrapped for a friend for Christmas). I strongly feel that everyone should read that book, it is SO good – and a brilliant gateway to her other work.

What makes her novels so unique is the way they're written. Yes, they're clever murder mysteries that will keep readers on their toes as they're second-guessing everything, but what makes them especially innovative is their format. She combines lots of different media – in particular emails, newspaper clippings, police interviews, and messaging chats – to let the story unfold. It's a really smart way of approaching a mystery as it not only allows all characters to be heard in their own voices – but as a reader you have to really pay attention and not be misled by what someone's version of events is. 

My first introduction to Janice's writing style was her debut novel The Appeal and she really expanded the possibilities of the concept with the incredibly intricate The Twyford Code and the even more mysterious Alperton Angels. For The Christmas Appeal – a novella sequel to her first book – she returns not only to a familiar setting and characters, but also to a more stripped down version of her storytelling style, which works perfectly for the shorter format of the novella. 

And what a delight it was to return to the Fairway Players. As a lover of theatre as well as books, this setting is right up my street. And I adore the way the characters are portrayed with all their insecurities, bickering, and backstabbing on display. It feels like a very accurate representation of small-town England and I laughed so much as the ridiculousness in the emails and conversations unfolded. Celia in particular is unintentionally hilarious and I also urge you to pay attention to emails from a woman called Victoria. Absolutely brilliant. 

My only gripe, if you can call it that, with The Christmas Appeal is that it I felt it was too short to fill the Janice Hallett reading hole in my life. I completely understand that's the whole point of a novella, but I adored it so much that I wanted more. Just as I fully refamiliarised myself with the characters and the town, I had to say goodbye again. It also meant that the mysteries at the heart of this festive tale, couldn't quite misdirect my attention as much as they usually do – and so the conclusion didn't take me by complete surprise. Or, perhaps, I'm actually getting better at solving them as I've read quite a few murder mysteries in recent years! 

That said, The Christmas Appeal really is an absolute delight from its hilarious start to its "killer" ending. While I recommend picking up The Appeal first for full character context – and because it's such a fantastic and gripping book – this novella could probably be read as a standalone for a murderous break during the festive season. You know that time between Christmas and New Year when you lose track of what day it is and when you finished the last of the Quality Street? Make yourself a hot drink  and cosy up for a few hours with this book. Your brain will wake up for some clever sleuthing while at the same time you'll be laughing on the floor over the farcical ridiculousness of it all. Only the Fairway Players can turn a tragic event into a riotous comedy of epic proportions – and I absolutely love them for it. 

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett is published by Viper Books and you can now buy your copy from your favourite local book shop!

Blog tour stops for The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

This review for The Christmas Appeal is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure to check out the other stops too!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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