The family sets about raising an eye-watering sum for experimental drugs from America, and there are laugh-out-loud passages as members of the company resort to increasingly unethical stratagems to raise the cash. Yet it becomes apparent that the child is being exploited, and less sentimental members of the cast suspect a fraud. Despite the contemporary references, this is a classic set-up for murder, with a motive that Sayers or Christie would recognise. Hallett uses the epistolary form to superb effect in this terrific debut, demonstrating that violent crime tears the social fabric — but only because it was fraying to begin with.
Grim stuff, yet Janice Hallett soon has you laughing out loud as a gossipy group of villagers do their best to help the afflicted family while putting on an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s misery-fest All My Sons. “Can you remember who I hit?” “Your brother Nick.” “Thank God.” Fraud, adultery and rape also rear their ugly heads in a medical drama that leads all the way back to Africa. By the end all three strands merge together. The Appeal is clever and funny. However, like many a party game, it goes on a bit too long.