Category Archives: Mystery novels

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

“When you find them, you’ll see that Twyford wrote in a particular way. A very simple way. She’s an unchallenging read on every level. No subtext. No depth. No hidden meanings.“

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal and Queen of the Unreliable Narrator is back with another mystery novel in which she does it again, and I would argue that The Twyford Code is even more enjoyable than The Appeal.

Steven Smith has just been released from prison a long prison sentence. He’s attempting to rejoin society and get his life back on track, but is haunted by the disappearance of his teacher Miss Isles forty years ago after she noticed a code in a children’s book he brought to school. Armed with a mobile phone his estranged son gave him, he records an audio diary of the investigation. What did happen on the day Miss Iles went missing? What are the other members of his remedial English class trying to hide from him? And is it possible that there really was a secret code hidden in the novels of prolific children’s author, Edith Twyford?

Much like Janice Hallet’s previous novel, The Twyford Code plays with the potential of technology as a story telling medium, and the novel opens with a letter from an Inspector Waliso to a Professor Mansfield, sending automatically generated transcripts of 200 deleted audio files which have been recovered from the phone of a missing person, asking for the Professor’s professional opinion of the content and hinting at a relationship between the Professor and the missing person.

These transcripts form the core narrative of the novel as Steven Smith records his attempted investigation, and they give us a chance to really get to know Steve’s character and life story as he covertly interviews his former classmates; reminisces about his childhood and how he fell in with the criminal gang that saw him sent to prison; reflects on how he discovered he had a child; and of course hunts down clues to help him solve the mystery of Miss Iles disappearance. The transcripts are at times farcical: as he wades in to a university to interview a university professor who is an expert in Edith Twyford for the book he’s writing at times poignant; as he remembers how he used to love walking home from the pub with his emotionally remote father because he’d sometimes hold his hand and pick him up…. But all the while it’s clear that Steve is right, something odd is going on, and as two men in black keep showing up, it begins to look as though someone is trying to stop him finding out the truth about Edith Twyford.

I’m going to keep what I say here brief for those who haven’t read The Twyford Code, with spoilers clearly marked for those who have, but I would definitely urge you to read it if you do like a mystery novel or if you enjoyed Janice Hallett’s earlier novel The Appeal.

Spoilers below….











Spoilers for The Twyford Code, you’ve been warned!

Aaaaah Janice Hallett does it again, completely wrongfoots you with an unreliable narrator. I was initially getting a bit annoyed about the shifting balance between the Twyford Code investigations and the memories of life with the Harrison gang and the heist, but then bam! Brilliantly done.

Once again Janice Hallett uses the unreliable narrator/one of these characters doesn’t really exist trick, this time instead of a character emailing an imaginary friend, it’s Steve playing the character of Lucy they sympathetic librarian who is the only character who seems truly kind to him in the novel and evokes a lot of pity except….

Except that’s clearly not the case is it? He’s still close enough with his friends from the remedial English class after forty years that they’re willing to help him build the whole cover story and frame the crooks who framed him. Unusual to stay so close after forty years, especially when one of the remedial English gang has actually joined a criminal gang and been imprisoned for murder during that time.

Speaking of murder, that’s a heck of a cheeky puff on the cover, “Time to solve the murder of the century”. I don’t think there was a murder to solve in the book as such. Miss Isles was fine, Colin confessed to killing his father who had in turn confessed to killing their mother, and Steve witnessed the murder of John Harrison, unless the murder was of Werner Richter the German spy, but again, less a murder to solve, more the execution of a spy during wartime and clearly known to those in the know… though I’m not sure what the Geneva convention has to say about that kind of thing. Maybe it’s Steve Smith’s figurative murder of his former self and his disappearance to a new life that’s the murder? I’m not complaining, I loved it.

In the world of the book, Edith Twyford is a real life character who existed (though clearly based on the prolific work of Enid Blyton during the same period, her works are similarly updated). Professor Max Mansfield, aka Steven Smith’s son says that he’s ordered some of her books to look for the cats and codes mentioned in the transcript but also confirms that the co-ordinates for the locations of the banks mentioned correspond to the information in the transcripts. The photographs exist with the visual clues that Steve apparently interprets in the transcripts, and Werner Richter was a real figure who was missing in action which is one hell of a coincidence if you’re writing a retrospective story to hide clues to treasure for your son.

Which is to say, although at the end Operation Goldfish is a secondary concern to Steve’s Heist and the Masquerade/Twyford code style treasure hunt that Steve Smith disguises in the transcripts to allow Max to collect clean untraceable gold, I think in the book it really happened. Especially in light of Miss Iles’ fancy house with the fish. Yes, it’s hinted that it’s a game that they made up in their literacy lessons but at the same time, “Take heed everyone. Trust what you find out. Right Doesn’t Come of deceit. Everything is spoken. Always love in vain. Each time of day answers you.” Thetwyfordcodeisalivetoday. She definitely found the gold from operation goldfish, didn’t she?

Speaking of right doesn’t come of deceit…. Guilt tripping your son into thinking you’ve been murdered by a criminal gang to persuade him to read your emotive life story is a crash course in toxic parenting isn’t it? An incredibly clever father is on the one hand sending instructions to his incredibly clever son to help him find the assets he’s hidden for him to give him the chance to provide for him, but at the same time it’s more than a little forked up to create a heroic narrative through those transcript files to guilt him into not having met with the doting father who is so proud of his boy throughout the book….“It’s emotional truth that matters. Little Smithy couldn’t read, but he knew a good story when he heard one.” It might be emotional truth that matters, but what about the effects of that emotional truth on the person (in this case your child who has experience more than a little emotional disruption as a result of the parent’s actions….)

“You must understand that two people may have different memories of the same thing. And both are correct.” That’s a quote just begging an undergraduate exam paper of dissertation based around unreliable narrators and witness testimony in modern novels isn’t it.

I got the impression that the book was part inspired by the Masquerade book and associated hunt for the Golden Hare that The Twyford Code references. This book is also real in our world as well (I had to google, it was before my time!) and you can actually find it to buy today. I loved the idea of this kind of mass national treasure hunt, it would be amazing if an enterprising publisher would do the same today.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

In a town full of secrets… Someone was murdered. Someone went to prison. And everyone’s a suspect. Can you uncover the truth?

In the small town of Lockwood, a couple recently returned from working with Medicine Sans Frontiers in Africa join a local amateur dramatics society and are cast in their production of All My Sons. At the same time, a two-year-old girl is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her family launch an appeal to raise money for life-saving treatment from the United States. In the course of these events, a murder is committed. The suspect is in prison, but a QC who worked on the trial believes that the murderer is still at large and hiding in plain sight. He instructs two law students to review a portfolio of evidence to see if they too come to the same conclusion.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is a whodunnit with a difference, with an innovative structure that brings detective stories into the 21st century, the story is told through whatsapp messages, texts and emails, with the build up to the murder thus told by an array of unreliable narrators, in which the victim is voiceless, and the two law students serve to direct the reader’s focus, before acting as the Columbo-like detective figure spelling out what really happened on the night of the murder.

I really enjoyed this book, there’s something a little voyeuristic about picking through the emails, but it’s highly readable and as a format it really works. The characterisation is brilliantly conveyed through the emails the characters themselves write, and they manage to evoke some really strong reactions to various characters throughout the course of the novel. I was a bit of a drama kid growing up, and I’ve always found that local amateur dramatics groups can be a real cesspit of politics and factions, and I thought that Janice Hallet skewered these beautifully in The Appeal. Some of the characters were all too recognisable!

At the end of The Appeal, the reader is invited by the QC to answer 15 questions which will help reveal the killer. Even though I managed a few like which character was never there at all, I have to admit I flunked it, but in the most enjoyable way.

I thought that this was a really fun read, and it’s one of those books which will definitely become one of my go to Christmas and birthday presents for fans of Agatha Christie style crime novels.