After the success of her debut novel, there was a lot of hype for Janice Hallett’s second novel. I had preordered it pretty much as soon as I’d finished The Appeal and was very much looking forward to it. I really enjoyed the way that format she used. It was so different to the usual crime novels you expect from contemporary readers and really gave her cosy crime novel a fresh feeling. Knowing that the sequel would be an equally unconventional format, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.
Janice Hallett’s debut novel was a phenomenal success, so there was always going to be more pressure on the follow-up. There was never any doubt that The Twyford Code would be one of the most anticipated books of 2022 but could it possibly love up? Especially as The Appeal made such an impact because of its unconventional format. Could Hallett keep on mixing up the crime genre with her unusual style? Or would it feel more like a gimmick the second time around?
For her second novel, Hallett continues with the unusual formate but this time we’re wading through transcripts of voice notes made on an old iPhone. I didn’t like it as much as the emails and messages of the previous novel. The mix of monologues and conversations just didn’t really work for me as the pacing was too up and down. I also think it made me instantly suspicious of everything I was reading. Of course, you’re always going to be suspicious in a crime novel but you don’t want to be second-guessing from the first page onwards. Maybe this is the reason that The Twyford Code seemed easier to solve than The Appeal?
Not that her previous novel wasn’t easy to solve but I got more caught up in that narrative. I never felt as though I connected with this story in the same way. It’s not as if there wasn’t plenty there but it just felt like too much. As though it was trying too hard. Although, a story about conspiracy theories and buried treasure will always be a lot I guess. It’s just that it was such a slow and drawn-out process. It took so long to get anywhere in this book. It’s an ambitious book and there is plenty to enjoy but I didn’t have that same desire to keep reading this time. I wasn’t thinking ahead to my next reading session as I did before.
Last time, you had the framing narrative to push you into the role of detective. This time around, you were more removed from the plot. Yes, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on but you’re not solving the mystery in the same way. It’s hard to talk about the plot without giving much away but you basically go down the rabbit hole on this one. Lost in a world of conspiracy theories, espionage and codes. It sounds super fun but, in practice, I found a lot of it infuriating. Mostly because the ending was really well signposted for most of the book.
It’s not that The Twyford Code is badly written but it’s disappointing. There was so much potential for Hallett to strike gold again but it feels like there was too much ambition here. That she was trying to break the mould so much that everything just spilled out. There’s a lack of control within the storytelling and not enough mystery. I guess it’s not really fair to compare this to The Appeal because they are such different books but it’s hard not to. In terms of sheer enjoyment, the writer’s second book did fall flat. I was reading it because I was excited to delve deeper but because I wanted to get it over with. I just wanted it all to end.