ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett is published by Viper and available now in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. My thanks to Rachel May Quin for the fabulous review package.

One dead Santa. A town full of suspects. Will you discover the truth?

Christmas in Lower Lockwood, and the Fairway Players are busy rehearsing their festive pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, to raise money for the church roof appeal. But despite the season, goodwill is distinctly lacking amongst the amateur dramatics enthusiasts. Sarah-Jane is fending off threats to her new position as Chair, the fibreglass beanstalk might be full of asbestos, and a someone is intent on ruining the panto even before the curtain goes up.

Of course there’s also the matter of the dead body. Who could possibly have had the victim on their naughty list? Join lawyers Femi and Charlotte as they read the round robins, examine the emails and pore over the police transcripts. Will the show go on?

The Christmas Appeal takes us back to Lower Lockwood, the location of Janice Hallett’s debut, The Appeal. This time, amateur dramatics group, The Fairway Players, are putting on a Christmas panto, Jack and the Beanstalk.

As is Hallett’s signature style, the story is told almost entirely in emails and texts, a device which makes this an extremely pacy read indeed. The main protagonists are Sarah-Jane and Kevin MacDonald, co-chairs of the group as well as being director and producer respectively, and Celia and Joel Halliday (don’t forget Joel’s OBE, whatever you do!) who quite clearly wish they were in charge. Celia is a brilliant and horrible character, undermining and backstabbing Sarah-Jane at every turn, one of those people who send a very boastful round robin every year. The huge fibreglass beanstalk and the dead body throw something of a spanner in the works and turn the panto into an unintentional farce.

As we first saw in The Appeal, Roderick Tanner KC (now retired) enlists the help of Femi and Charlotte, who are now establishing themselves as criminal lawyers, to read through all the evidence and come to a conclusion, just as the reader is invited to do. I thoroughly enjoyed following events in Lower Lockwood and I found it really amusing. There’s all of the worst of human life in this book, a cast of unlikeable but compelling characters. For a Christmas book with a difference I highly recommend The Christmas Appeal – it’s funny, festive, fast and fabulous, and hugely enjoyable.

Janice Hallett is the author of three best-selling novels. Her debut, The Appeal, was awarded the CWA Debut Dagger of 2021 and was a Sunday Times’ Bestseller, Waterstones’ Thriller of the Month and Sunday Times’ Crime Book of the Month. Her second novel The Twyford Code was named Crime & Thriller Book of the Year in the British Book Awards 2023. It was also a Sunday Times’ Bestseller and a Financial Times book of the year. The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels was an instant Times and Sunday Times bestseller on its launch in January 2023.

The Christmas Appeal, a fast, fun and festive novella, was launched in October 2023.

Janice is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. As a playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and co-wrote the feature film Retreat.

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