The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett – Book review

Well, this was a little brain-twister of a mystery story! The Twyford Code is the second book from Janice Hallett and is a modern take on the epistolary novel – consisting primarily of voice message transcripts. This format did require extra concentration while reading as there are purposeful typos where the transcript software mishears what is said.

Opening sentence: Dear Professor Mansfield, I am investigating a mysterious case and suspect you may be able to help.

A 40 year old mystery…

Steve Smith has served 11 years in prison and now wants to clear up something that’s been on his mind for 40 years. As a schoolboy, his teacher, Miss Isles took him on a trip, along with his fellow remedial English pupils, Nathan, Shell, Donna and Paul, to the seaside home of legendary author, Edith Twyford.

Miss Isles never returned from the trip, Steve believes she was murdered and he now wants to find out why…

I decided I’d dictate this. What is it? Diary? Project? Investigation?

Only learning to read and write properly in prison, Steve feels more comfortable talking, so dictates his findings and thoughts into his iPhone. We learn about both his childhood and the events that sent him to prison, as well as his investigations into what happened to his teacher.

What is The Twyford Code?

Edith Tywford is at the heart of this book. She’s a fictional author, very much in the Edith Nesbitt / Enid Blyton vein.

There are six young characters who enjoy adventures together and solve rural mysteries.

Her series of books features The Super Six and Steve’s voice notes reveal ‘accusations of sexism, racism, misogyny and xenophobia have stalked Twyford ever since she began her career in the 1930s.’ This is not unlike the controversy surrounding Enid Blyton.

Janice Hallett uses this Blyton reference in a very clever way here as it soon becomes clear that there is perhaps more to Twyford’s books than first meet the eye. Edith Twyford was writing her books during World War II and had friends in high places. There are rumours that she is sending secret messages through her stories – but was she? Is this why Miss Isles went missing all those years ago?

Could the repercussions be so immense, powerful people want it to stay hidden?

Hooked on nostalgia

The Twyford Code was so enjoyable as just when you think you know where the story is going, it throws you a curveball. Plus, there are more than a few story threads that all come together beautifully. Once I’d got to grips with the transcript format, I was completely hooked.

I loved its nostalgic feel – evoking the clever plotting of Agatha Christie at her best and a nod to a bygone era of children making their own adventures. I find myself still thinking about it a week later, always a good sign!

Janice Hallett’s much-acclaimed first novel, The Appeal also has an epistolary format and is very much on my 2022 TBR list.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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