Stolen gold, Chinese jewels, nuclear weaponry, oil, Nazi treasure, a secret portal to a parallel utopian society, an underground bunker full of priceless artworks, an airtight library of valuable books, evidence of alien visitation, a cure for cancer, a time machine, a device to contact the spirit world, a map of the human genome from fifty years before modern science discovered it. You name it, someone, somewhere, at some time, has suspected Edith Twyford hid clues to it in her books.
It’s always a nice feeling when you start to read a book and can tell after just a few pages that it’s going to be one of your books of the year. It’s a particularly nice feeling when that happens in January! The Twyford Code is one of those books; I loved it and before I’d even finished I was adding Janice Hallett’s previous novel The Appeal to my TBR.
The Twyford Code is such an unusual book it’s been difficult for me to decide how much I can say about it without spoiling the fun for other readers. I’m probably not going to do it justice here, but this is the best I can do!
In 1983, Steven Smith finds a book by children’s author Edith Twyford on a bus in London. Unable to read the book himself, he takes it to school and gives it to his Remedial English teacher, Miss Isles, completely unaware of what he is setting in motion – because Miss Isles believes that this book, and the rest of Twyford’s Super Six series, contains a secret code that will lead to a hidden treasure. Then, on a school trip to Bournemouth, Miss Isles disappears without trace, an incident which will haunt Steve for the rest of his life.
In 2019, Steve has just been released from prison after serving an eleven-year sentence. He now has no memory of what happened to Miss Isles on that long-ago day, but he is convinced that her disappearance had something to do with the Twyford Code. Now that he is free, Steve decides that the time has come to uncover the truth about Miss Isles, Edith Twyford and the code.
Using an old iPhone given to him by his estranged son, Steve records the details of his investigations in audio form and most of the novel is presented as a series of transcripts of these audio files. The voice recognition software used to transcribe the recordings often ‘mishears’ words or spells them phonetically, which makes for a challenging but entertaining reading experience! It’s probably something you’ll either love or hate, but my advice is to try to stick with it as it does become less distracting after a while and the format really is an important part of the story.
This was the perfect book for me in many ways. I have always enjoyed puzzles and word games and there are plenty of those incorporated into The Twyford Code in various forms. I also read a lot of Enid Blyton as a child and Edith Twyford is clearly supposed to be a fictional version of Blyton (her Super Six books are obviously the equivalent of Blyton’s Famous Five and we are told that, like Blyton, Twyford’s books are now seen as outdated, racist and sexist, and have been edited to make them suitable for a modern audience). But I think what I actually enjoyed most about this novel was Steven Smith’s personal story – the details of his troubled, impoverished childhood in the 1980s, how he drifted into a life of crime, and how he sets out to solve the code and find out what happened to Miss Isles.
I loved this book and on reaching the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it all again to look for all the clues I’d missed the first time. I didn’t do that, because I have so many other books waiting to be read, but it was very tempting and I’m sure I’ll be picking up The Appeal before much longer!