Saturday 17 July 2021

The Appeal

This is amateur dramatics, not the RSC.
I took this smart and amusing murder mystery to Brighton last weekend and it was a great beach read with a highly original structure.  The story is relayed entirely in emails and WhatsApp messages yet still manages to have a bit of a Dorothy L Sayers classic crime feel.

Legal students Femi and Charlotte are handed six months' worth of email correspondence between a local amateur dramatics society and asked by their boss to look at it with a fresh perspective.   Some emails are missing, some irrelevant, some fail to deliver and some remain drafts.  Femi and Charlotte are given no background information but deduce that it is an ongoing legal case.

From the emails they learn that The Fairway Players have just staged a successful production of Blithe Spirit and are planning their next play when director Martin Hayward announces that his granddaughter Poppy has a cancer diagnosis.  Martin and wife Helen (leading lady) and his extended family appear to be queen bees in this group and the players and wider community begin a fundraising appeal called A Cure for Poppy.  However, sponsored runs, cake sales, charity football matches and Yogathons won't raise the required amount and more ambitious ways to raise money are considered.

Clever character portrayals emerge  - needy nurse Isabel, pushy former PR Sarah and my favourite - 23 year old Jackie who is 'currently travelling' and whose emails arrive from all over the world, always a step behind and giving away more than she may wish to.  There are also some highly amusing moments when their boss who is not tech-savvy tries to join the WhatsApp exchanges between Charlotte and Femi as they try to work out why someone dies and who is not as they appear to be.

This mystery also examines how a fundraising appeal can become heartlessly corporate  expecting people who work as tea ladies and nurses to stump up £10 for a raffle ticket or £80 to attend a ball.  The most moving email was from a man who donates to the Appeal for Poppy describing the loss of his own daughter and the impact it has had on him and his wife only to get an automatic Dear Donor reply telling him where to make his cheque payable to.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is my reading highlight so far this year. Hope you enjoy it, too!