This month sees the publication of the paperback version of The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett. To celebrate, I’m not only resharing my review, but the fab folks at Viper Books has asked me to host a giveaway for you to win a copy of the book. Entry details at the bottom of the post Before we take a look at my thoughts, here’s what the book’s all about:
About the Book
It’s time to solve the murder of the century…
Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. Wanting to know more, he took it to his English teacher Miss Iles, not realising the chain of events that he was setting in motion. Miss Iles became convinced that the book was the key to solving a puzzle, and that a message in secret code ran through all Twyford’s novels. Then Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven has no memory of what happened to her.
Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Iles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today?
Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Iles, Steven revisits the people and places of his childhood. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code has great power, and he isn’t the only one trying to solve it…
Perfect for fans of Richard Osman, Alex Pavesi and S.J. Bennett, The Twyford Code will keep you up puzzling late into the night.
Well this book was a lot of fun. Wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up but what I found was a blend of what amounts to a very traditional, cosy crime style of mystery, told in a very modern and unique way. It is a story steeped in suspense, one that using a wonderful sleight of hand, makes you think you have handle on what is happening, whilst hiding the truth in plain sight. There are many different aspects to this story, many layers that pile upon each other in such a clever way that you cannot tell that they are there, let alone how they fit together, until right in the dying moments. With echoes of the golden era of cosy crime, and an art imitating life nod to mystery stories of many a childhood, this is an Agatha Christie, meets Enid Blyton, meets true crime podcast kind of story that kept me hooked throughout.
This is, effectively, the story of Steven Smith, former jailbird, who takes it upon himself to solve a mystery that has long fascinated him – the disappearance of his former teacher, Miss Iles. Now I don’t want to say too much more about the plot than that, and you can glean all you need to know about the story from the blurb, but in Steven’s mind, the whole thing links back to a book he found on a bus on the way into school. Now this is not a chronological tale, the story moves back and forth between the present day as Steven investigates as much as he can about the fateful day, and his memories of the time, snippets from his childhood that add context to his obsession.
But this is no straightforward story and, although technically told from a first person perspective, the narration is actually brought to readers via transcripts of a series of audio recordings that Steven made on a phone given to him by his estranged son. It means that we get to hear a lot of Steven’s pontification, whilst also getting evidence straight from the horses mouth as he tracks down his former classmates in a bid to get to the truth. It’s very clever, but also very quirky, and it took a while to settle into the styling of the book as, due to the nature of transcription software, not all language used is a literal representation of what is said. Factor in regional accents, quick speech patterns etc and Miss Iles is no longer a secondary school teacher, more something you’d expect to see launched from a submarine …
Because of that, because of the unique nature of the narrative, you may feel a little disconnected from the story at first, but I am glad I kept reading. I soon settled into the flow of the story, found myself automatically translating the written speech into the correct narrative, and was absorbed into what is, truly, a really fascinating mystery. Not only the disappearance of Miss Iles, but also the whole concept of the eponymous ‘Twyford Code’, a mystery allegedly written into all of Edith Twyford’s books which is purported to hide a long held secret. Secret societies, fanatics, underground web pages, and a constant threat of something dark, a foreboding presence determined to catch Steven out, keep the tension and the suspense alive and my attention fully on the book.
I loved the character observations in this book, the opportunity to learn more about Steven’s past providing a real insight into the man he has become and the reason behind his obsession with finding the truth. And yet, there is so much more to the book too, so many things I wasn’t expecting and didn’t see coming. Little twists that maybe made me doubt the narration that little bit more, when it was already clear that much of what Steven believes may well have been a figment of his imagination. There is always that air of uncertainty, that suspicion, that intrigued me and left me unprepared for an ending that made me smile in complete satisfaction. It’s also left me keen to get and read The Appeal now, a book I’ve had in my tbr for too long.
A fascinating, original, twisted and unexpected mystery novel that really gets the old brain whirring. Definitely recommended.
Win A Copy of the Book
To be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy of The Twyford Code, simply follow the link below to enter. The competition is open to UK residents only and closes at midnight on 17th July.
The prize will be dispatched directly from the publishers. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on twitter one the competition has closed. Winners address will be required in order to send out the prize and winners must agree to details being passed to the publisher. They will not be used for any other purpose and I will not retain details once the draw is closed.
About the Author
Janice Hallett studied English at UCL, and spent several years as a magazine editor, winning two awards for journalism. After gaining an MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway, she co-wrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal is inspired by her lifelong interest in amateur dramatics. Her second novel, The Twyford Code, was published by Viper in 2022. When not indulging her passion for global adventure travel, she is based in West London.