Imagine you find a box of documents that make up the research material for a true crime book. After reading them, you see that the book will shed new light on the eighteen-year-old case of the Alperton Angels – but what will you do next? Destroy the documents? Or hand them over to the police? This is the premise of Janice Hallett’s new novel, The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels. It’s fascinating, but Hallett has a style all of her own which can take a while to get used to. I knew what to expect as I loved her previous novel, The Twyford Code – one of my favourite books of 2022 – and I think I enjoyed this one even more.
The case of the Alperton Angels involved a cult led by a man who called himself the Angel Gabriel, two vulnerable teenagers and a baby they believed to be the Antichrist. When true crime writer Amanda Bailey is commissioned to write a book for a new series re-assessing historic crimes, she decides to write about the Alperton Angels from the perspective of the baby, who is now about to turn eighteen. The only problem is, she has no idea where the baby is – or even who they are. Even worse, she discovers that one of her rivals, Oliver Menzies, is working on the same book from the same angle. Who will find the baby first and uncover the truth behind the Alperton Angels?
The whole novel is presented as Amanda’s collection of research material: emails, letters, WhatsApp messages, and even excerpts from books and film scripts. Where she has met and interviewed people involved in the case, these conversations are transcribed by her assistant Ellie, who adds her own amusing observations and asides. This modern, multimedia style of storytelling is not something that would usually sound appealing to me, but in Janice Hallett’s hands I love it. And actually, when I think about it, it’s really just an updated form of the classic epistolary novels I’ve always enjoyed, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t like it!
Despite the fragmentary style, I could still get a feel for the personalities of the main characters – Amanda persistent and tenacious, Oliver gullible and easily led, and Ellie witty and down to earth – but there’s also a sense that there’s a lot we’re not being told. How much can you trust what someone says in an email or in an interview where they know they’re being recorded? Similarly, the facts behind the case of the Alperton Angels are unravelled very slowly, one little piece of information at a time, and with many of the suspects and witnesses following their own agenda, we don’t even know if what we are reading is true or will be proved false later in the book. Things do eventually start to come together and make sense – and if you continue to the end, you’ll be rewarded with some great twists!
I found The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels completely gripping and difficult to put down, particularly as there are no traditional chapter breaks so no logical places to stop. Now I’m looking forward to reading Janice Hallett’s first novel, The Appeal.
Thanks to Viper for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.