The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Janice Hallett
The Appeal

Oooh, I am very very excited to read this after enjoying The Twyford Code so much, but then bizarrely I'm almost reluctant to start it as I anticipate getting completely obsessed with it and it taking all my attention and focus and normal life stopping, just as when I read The Twyford Code! I love how Hallett doesn’t have a detective in her books so she is then encouraging the reader to solve the crime/puzzle. Obviously I always try to solve the crime/puzzle in detective books, but in Hallett’s books it really feels like it’s up to me (!) and this is why I got so obsessed with The Twyford Code and anticipate getting similarly obsessed with The Appeal also.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett available on Amazon
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Oooh, I am very very excited to read this after enjoying The Twyford Code so much, but then bizarrely I’m almost reluctant to start it as I anticipate getting completely obsessed with it and it taking all my attention and focus and normal life stopping, just as when I read The Twyford Code! I love how Hallett doesn’t have a detective in her books so she is then encouraging the reader to solve the crime/puzzle. Obviously I always try to solve the crime/puzzle in detective books, but in Hallett’s books it really feels like it’s up to me (!) and this is why I got so obsessed with The Twyford Code and anticipate getting similarly obsessed with The Appeal also. 

The story looks to be told mostly by emails, which is an interesting and different approach, and it’s a lovely naughty feeling to be reading other people’s emails! There are no dates on the first couple of emails, these are from Roderick Tanner QC to Olufemi (Femi) Hassan and Charlotte Holroyd who seem new to the firm and seem to be being tested with this case. The emails they are studying, sent to them from Tanner, are dated 2018. The majority of the emails are between the members of a theatre group, The Fairway Players, who are preparing to put on a new production and parts are being assigned and lines learnt. The owners of the theatre group are husband and wife Martin and Helen Hayward, their son is James Hayward and his wife Olivia, and their daughter is Paige Reswick and her husband Glen. The MacDonalds and Dearings also seem prominent members of the group. Isabel (Issy) Beck works in a hospital, she is recommending her new colleague, Samantha Greenwood and her husband Kel, to the theatre group. I was a bit confused at first with who was who, I thought James was Martin’s brother and Paige was James’ wife, but it seems James is Martin’s son and Paige is Martin’s daughter.

My first impressions of the characters are that Martin is very brief/terse in his email replies to Issy, compared to the longer enthusiastic and swiftly sent emails from her to him, and he also leaves it quite some time before replying. Sarah-Jane MacDonald is also brief/terse in her replies to Issy, not answering Issy’s friendly questions or responding to her compliments, although Sarah-Jane seems brief/terse to most people! Issy is very enthusiastic about things, emailing later that same night after the audition and being keen to involve Sam Greenwood and to try to ensure they both have parts, it seems like Issy’s not been in the area long herself and is still trying to fit in, she seems a bit over-eager, and she describes joining The Fairway Players as it having ‘saved my life’ which sounds potentially like she was quite lonely or needed an occupation to distract her from some difficulties. Sam seems like a courageous person, working previously in Africa doing medical work including helping victims of armed conflict, she must have seen some horrendous injuries and had to keep her cool under enormous pressure, but the words ‘lady of principle’ and ‘not afraid to speak out’ from her letter of recommendation could indicate she is perhaps a person comfortable with challenging people. Sam’s reporting of bullying at the hospital is interesting, it seems to be implied it’s someone else being bullied so I’m guessing this can only be Issy (and Issy’s ex-colleague, Lauren, describes the hospital as ‘toxic’ with ‘nasty, controlling, manipulative’ people and urges Issy to ask for a transfer, which Issy does but this is denied, so again it sounds like it is possibly Issy who is the one being bullied). And the fact that Sam has raised this point about bullying with Human Resources, and several other points needing improvement, after just four weeks working at the hospital does perhaps demonstrate that she is ‘not afraid to speak out’. There also seems to be several emails from Issy to Sam, but no replies from Sam, so is this Issy doing all of the running or is it just that those emails have been lost (Tanner said at the beginning that not all the emails could be recovered)? James seems a bit two-faced as he tells Issy she is first choice to play the part of Lydia in the play whereas he’s actually offered it to other people first who refused it, however it could be that he told Issy she was first choice in order to boost her confidence and be kind to her, as later when someone criticises Issy to James he defends her and then emails her saying not to let what other people say get her down, and again later asks if she is ok, saying he has noticed she is always so quiet. 

It feels so far like a bit of an overload of information with emails from several different people, it’s a bit difficult to keep up with who’s who. I feel like I’m needing to take notes so I don’t miss anything, and also it seems like all the emails must contain important information as Tanner has sent them all to Femi and Charlotte to study, and I’m also bearing in mind that there was so much subtle information hidden in The Twyford Code that I suspect there could be similar hidden information in this book and I therefore need to pay lots of attention to every email. And we’re not getting all the correspondence so I am having to guess what led to a particular email and guess the person’s response to the email. But I don’t mind this too much, I kind of feel it’s honing my detecting skills for later in the book! I’m not feeling like I know much about any of the characters yet apart from Issy, it seems like we’re definitely being led to know and sympathise with Issy the most, noting her enthusiasm and positivity while we’re also noting the hint she’s possibly being bullied at work and noting Martin’s terse replies to her and James’ two-facedness in offering the part after trying everyone else first. I am excited to discover more and get to the heart of the plot and the mystery.

Martin emails everyone in the theatre group with the shocking news that their two year old granddaughter Poppy has a brain tumour, he says they’ve decided to try and raise funds for a new drug from America which will cost £250,000 and he is asking all of them for help to raise the funds. Issy and Sam, working in a hospital, have medical knowledge and aren’t too hopeful of Poppy’s chance of survival or the decision to try and source this new drug. I did smile ironically at people’s varying responses to Martin’s news of his granddaughter’s tumour, particularly how some of them sympathise and then swiftly turn it around to their own experiences, maybe this is done to show empathy like ‘I know what you’re going through’ but it does seem slightly like it’s more about them rather than Martin. 

Sam approaches other professionals about the drug Martin is hoping to buy from America, and also questions Poppy’s doctor, Dr Tish Bhatoa, which causes offence and leads to Tish threatening to share the ‘real reason’ why Sam left Africa. Oooh, there have been a few hints that there is more behind Sam’s move to England, so I am wondering what this ‘real reason’ can be. Tish’s threat does seem aggressive, but I’m aware we don’t see Sam’s enquiry to her and how that was phrased. 

Later there is an email from a BMA (presumably British Medical Association) friend to Tish warning her that someone has anonymously submitted a ‘conflict of interest’ form regarding her being involved with a charity to raise funds for an unapproved drug. Tish immediately cuts all links to the fundraising event for Poppy. Oooh, is this Sam getting back at Tish? If so, Sam seems again to be a person not to mess with. 

Issy is quite curt and short in her email replies to her ex-colleague, Lauren, whilst she is very profuse in her emails to everyone else, and she refuses invitations to meet with Lauren and seems to be determined to keep Lauren away from Sam. I wonder why this is, when Issy seems so desperate for friendship and Lauren seems to be reaching out to her. Is it that Issy is hurt that Lauren seemingly dropped Issy for her new boyfriend, or is it Issy wanting to keep Sam to herself and being worried that if Lauren and Sam meet then she could be pushed out?

Eeek, there are no chapters so it’s really hard to find a suitable place to pause, I find myself continuing reading and reading and reading…! I’m beginning to wonder who may be the one to be killed, I’m leaning towards Sam at the moment as she seems to offend quite a few people and takes action that others could find uncomfortable or annoying. Also the blurb on the back of the book hints that the fundraising for Poppy is ‘shady’ so I’m wondering if Sam’s medical knowledge leads her to guess that all is not as it seems with Poppy’s diagnosis, and Sam therefore must be silenced as there is a lot of money stood to be gained. I almost wish the blurb on the back wasn’t there as I feel it’s giving away too many things. I’m also beginning to feel concerned about Issy’s obsessiveness regarding the friendship with Sam, and I wonder how Issy could react if she later realises the dismissive way that Sam seems to view her and if the anger and pain of this could then drive Issy to hurt Sam.

Sarah-Jane organises a Ball at The Grange Golf and Country Club, which is owned by Martin and Helen, and raises £89,000 after convincing the band and caterers and wine suppliers and photo booth service, etc, to give their services for free. Martin then says that The Grange will have to put in an invoice for £20,000. I am so shocked at this, how can he do this? It was all supposed to be about raising funds for Poppy, I am beginning to have doubts about Martin now. I wonder what Sarah-Jane’s response was to this, I wish we’d seen that, as she was very assertive with the band, insisting they gave their services for free. 

Martin sends an email to the theatre group saying the fundraising from the Ball went well and thanking everyone for their help but says that they need £200,000 in the next 12 weeks. Sarah-Jane contacts him saying it’s £106,000 they need to raise. She also asks Martin again for details of other donations he has received offline and reminds him that she has asked for this information a few times before. Hmmm, surely Martin can’t be lying about the diagnosis and the treatment Poppy is currently having, as that would mean the rest of the family are involved in the lie and Tish too, but I wonder what he is trying to do. 

A man called Clive has offered to give a huge donation anonymously, so it seems like the target may be about to be reached. There’s also an email to Martin from a couple who lost their daughter to a brain tumour and want to donate to Poppy’s appeal, their email is very heartfelt but they receive a terse auto-reply from Martin just giving them details of who to make cheques payable to. Hmmm, I know not all the correspondence is featured so I’d like to hope there was later a similarly heartfelt and appreciative email reply sent back to the couple from Martin, I was uncomfortable with his terse auto-reply. 

A friend of Sam’s has replied to her suggesting they meet when her ‘clingy friend’ isn’t around. Issy was expecting to meet Sam at lunch that day but Sam doesn’t show up, because she was actually lunching with that friend, Claudia D’Souza, the Human Resources Manager at the hospital who Sam raised her concerns to earlier, they seem to have become friends. Oh dear, this ‘clingy friend’ must be Issy and this must be the way that Sam has described her to others.

Sarah-Jane refers to Issy as ‘that drippy girl who has latched onto them (the Greenwoods) with a vengeance’ and that they can’t shake her off. I can’t help being a bit concerned about what Issy may do when she realises how she is viewed by others and particularly by Sam, and I do feel sorry for her trying so hard with people but being ridiculed behind their backs.

Clive has asked for an accurate figure of the money needed and has been told £200,000. He also says he wants to pay the money directly to the American drug company and asks for their details, but Tish has insisted the money is paid into her account, and after some wrangling Clive then refuses to continue with the donation saying he can only presume there is no American manufacturer or life-saving drug or any truth in what Tish has told the family. Omg, I am wondering if this Clive may be Sam testing Tish. And I’m back to wondering if the whole thing is a lie and this huge sum of money isn’t being collected for life-saving treatment, as £200,000 is far more than the sum needed. It dawns on me that the book is called The Appeal rather than having ‘murder’ or ‘death’ in its title, which implies the main focus of the story is the appeal. But even though it’s a huge sum of money, I struggle to imagine that Tish would be lying and planning to steal the money, as there’s no way she wouldn’t get caught as the Haywards would be expecting her to use the funds to purchase this new drug, surely she wouldn’t risk her practice and reputation and career that she’s built up, even for such a large sum of money. Yet I also struggle to imagine that Martin would be lying and planning to steal the money, as he must have a good standing in the community with running The Grange and the theatre group, and the lie would have to involve many members of the family and he can’t pretend to a doctor that Poppy has a brain tumour. 

There is a swimming pool being built at The Grange, though Helen says this work was arranged before Poppy got ill and they can’t cancel the builders. Hmmm, I am a bit concerned about where the money has come from for this swimming pool, I have a bad feeling about this.

Sam tells Martin that she thinks Tish is lying about the drugs and is actually stealing the money and will just administer conventional chemo instead of the experimental chemo she promises to buy with the funds. Sam says she has no proof of this though and that it is just a gut feeling. Martin tells James what Sam has said, and Martin seems horrified at the suggestion. James suggests to Martin that he ask Tish for documents to clarify the order and say it’s in case anyone questions the appeal, and suggests to Martin that they don’t pay her any more money until they know for sure the money is going where it should be. James later tells Sam that they’ve double-checked everything and there’s no possibility that the new drug isn’t what it seems. Oh, so I see this is how Tish could get away with the lie, by not spending the funds on buying the new drug and pretending she has got the new drug while giving Poppy the conventional drug. And I am aware we haven’t seen emails from Tish to either Martin or James confirming the order, as James suggested Martin ask for, so have they actually got this confirmation from her? But Martin’s horror at this idea of Tish lying about the drugs makes it hard to imagine that he is stealing the money along with the doctor. There is something odd though regarding Martin, as he tells James that he was frantically trying to close all the doors when Sam turned up at their house unannounced, so what was he trying to hide in the rooms? And this is obviously something that James knows about. 

Sarah-Jane suggests several people run the fundraising committee including Sam and Kel, and is told an emphatic no from both Martin and James regarding Sam and Kel. Hmmm, why would he say no, is it because Sam is asking difficult questions and Martin has something to conceal? I really hope not.

Martin contacts Clive, the anonymous donor, trying to get him to change his mind and apologising for any offence Tish may have caused, saying that Tish is well-respected and trusted by them and knowledgeable but perhaps those skills are at the expense of her people-skills. He also says the treatment will cost a lot more than £250,000 as that is the price of one course of the treatment and Poppy needs four treatments, he says he hasn’t told even close family members this. His email is returned with a failure notice. Oh, so if this is true then that explains why Martin is stating a lesser figure than has actually been raised as he knows more needs to be raised. But omg, in the email to Clive he quotes phrases from the other couple’s heartfelt email to him about how their life changed when their daughter died! That seems cold and cruel and manipulative of him! 

Martin also arranges to meet with a Lydia Drake, who contacted the group in the early stages of the appeal offering fundraising help but was viewed as a con-artist as she’d pretended she was a close friend of Emma in the theatre group and Emma said she had never heard of a Lydia Drake. Martin admits to Sarah-Jane that he’s given £80,000 to Lydia after being assured by her that she can turn that money into a million in four weeks. Sarah-Jane is horrified and angry that Martin has given away their hard-earned appeal money, she says to her husband, Kevin, that they don’t need a million, she estimates they’ve raised just under £200,000 so only needed another £50,000 which Kevin’s rich colleague has promised to give in full, so she believes their target has almost been reached. She is however still asking Martin for firm figures which he doesn’t seem to be providing. She worries they’ve now lost this £80,000 and feels they can’t suddenly tell people they need more than £50,000. Kevin suspects Martin is losing grip of the situation and he suggests getting someone else to look after the funds, such as Sarah-Jane herself, or even telling the doctor their fears, but Sarah-Jane says everyone else in the family is too busy with either Poppy’s illness or Olivia’s pregnancy and the doctor won’t know anything or be able to help. Martin later tells Sarah-Jane that £250,000 is not the total figure needed, and that four times that figure is needed for four treatments. Sarah-Jane feels privately that they should only concentrate on the first dose at the moment as if that doesn’t work then they don’t need further doses. Martin also apologises to Sarah-Jane for forgetting to bring his chequebook in order to repay her for the t-shirts and other fundraising merchandise she’s had printed. Hmmm, I’m surprised that Martin seems to be grasping at straws like this and asking for help from Lydia when others have told him she isn’t trustworthy, and seemingly doing this without telling anyone first, is this greed and he wants more and more money for himself, or is it that he knows the treatment will cost more? I’m thinking if Sarah-Jane and Kevin did decide to tell Tish about Martin investing with Lydia then Tish would definitely intervene, particularly if she is taking the money herself. And oh dear, I fear Martin has no intention of paying Sarah-Jane the money for the fundraising merchandise. 

A friend from the BMA tells Tish they have been sent a professionally printed order of service for Poppy’s Ball that clearly names her as a speaker, so a full audit will now be done. Tish asks Martin if they have much involvement with Sam, and he tells her that Sam had questioned Tish’s honesty but that they don’t believe Sam and are distancing themselves from her. Tish then emails Sam threatening that she can tell people what Sam ‘tried to do’. Oooh, I am thinking it was Sam who sent the order of service to the BMA. Sam’s concerns about Tish are intriguing, are these genuine concerns as she knows Tish is untrustworthy and she wants to protect Martin and family from being conned, or does Sam just have a grudge against Tish for some reason and is going all out to destroy her? And ooooh, what was it that Sam tried to do that Tish threatens to tell about?!! But I think if Sam had done something dodgy herself then she wouldn’t be drawing attention and risking exposure to herself by going after someone who knows her history, so is it therefore more likely that she discovered wrongdoing in someone else (Tish?) who then pulled strings to escape blame and laid the blame on Sam? If so then this could be why Sam has come back to the same part of England where Tish is and has challenged her, as she feels Tish needs to be held accountable for whatever she did wrong and got away with.

Someone called Arnie, who obviously knew Sam and Kel in Africa, emails Kel to catch-up and mentions Sam’s ‘trouble’ and asks if she had to go to court in the end. Sam and Kel invite Arnie to live with them while he finds his feet, and Sam asks at the hospital about jobs for him. Issy is also keen to meet Arnie and get him involved with the play. Arnie’s mother then tries to email Kel, warning him that Arnie has been aggressive and has mental health problems and uses heroin and is self-medicating with opiates and needs professional medical help. Her email is returned as undelivered because Kel has a new email address. Oh dear, I don’t feel this will go well for Sam and Kel. And is it suspicious that Kel has a new email address, is he trying to hide from someone? And I also realise we have no emails from Kel and don’t know him at all, in fact I’m now wondering if we actually have any emails from Sam, I don’t think we do, so why no emails from those two people?

It’s feeling a bit of a strange book as nothing much is happening really, we still have just the basic storyline of a group of characters putting on a play and a fundraising appeal for a sick child. I realise my (copious!) notes aren’t really detailing the plot but more detailing my guesses and suspicions, and all those are really just because of the blurb on the back of the book and after reading The Twyford Code and knowing how that went. If there was no blurb on the back of the book and I’d not read The Twyford Code, I think I’d be wondering when something is going to happen. As this is her first book, I wonder if early readers did think just that and perhaps gave up on it. And being about a third of the way through, I would have expected (a bit gruesomely!) a dead body by now! And although I’m thinking nothing much is happening, I do find it quite intense as it’s so fast to read, being just emails and jumping about from different people. I find I have to keep taking a break from it, though I am loath to put it down, just so I can process what I’ve read and decide my thoughts about it.

Issy takes minutes for the first fundraising committee, these are inefficiently taken with lots of Issy’s own views on things, and she immediately sends them round the theatre group and is told off by Sarah-Jane for doing so and Sarah-Jane then sends round her own more professionally taken minutes. Issy is also feeling jealous of Claudia and Sam spending time together. Claudia describes Issy to Sam as ‘some people have “victim” written all over them’. Issy also writes in something she calls her Blue Book detailing her unhappiness and despair, she refers to herself and Sam in the Blue Book as best friends and inseparable and like secret sisters and says she doesn’t want to live if Sam’s not her friend. She also mentions in the Blue Book a suggestion she made to Sam that they go to Africa and makes it sound in the book like this trip is now actually being planned between them. She also writes in the Blue Book that she suspects that Claudia will aim to isolate Sam and make her dependent on her which will make Claudia feel powerful. Issy also emails Sarah-Jane about Sam and insists several times that Sarah-Jane contacts her (Issy) directly and she’ll then pass messages to Sam. Issy also tells Sam that no-one talks to her in the staffroom unless Sam is with her, and she begs Sam to have lunch with her saying ‘it would make me feel life is worth living’ and that ‘it’s only having you working there that’s stopped me killing myself these last few months’. Oh dear, Issy seems to be looking more and more vulnerable and pathetic and with possible mental health problems, and looking more and more eager and desperate for Sam’s friendship, she is beginning to seem quite obsessed and unbalanced, and the Blue Book sounds like something a therapist has encouraged her to do so I wonder if she has needed professional support before. And regarding the trip to Africa, obviously we don’t have any emails from Sam so it may be that she has indeed responded enthusiastically to the Africa trip idea and they are actually planning it, but without knowing this is the case then we are left suspecting that Issy is also delusional. And Issy’s belief that Claudia is trying to isolate Sam in order to make Sam dependent on her, actually sounds much more like Issy’s aim and what she is trying to do, and her asking Sarah-Jane to contact her directly rather than contact Sam makes Issy seem controlling. Oh dear, Issy began by seeming affectionate and loyal and friendly, and now seems unbalanced and obsessive and controlling and delusional and vulnerable. I can’t help feeling worried about her. 

Martin’s builders block The Grange car park until he pays upfront the full money for the pool, saying they have to be careful when a client has a history of litigation. James also mentions that Helen has booked a surprise holiday to Hawaii for Martin. It also sounds like Martin paid for the IVF treatment for James and Olivia’s pregnancy. Hmmm, all this seems strange, and particularly regarding the holiday as if the money is coming from the fund then Helen must surely be involved in this stealing as well, and also would they go away on holiday when Poppy is poorly? 

Tish tells Martin that the drug is ready for transportation to the UK and asks Martin for the remaining £125,000 in order to sort the exportation process. Martin tells her he needs to delay payment for a few weeks due to cash flow problems from investing in merchandise and other aspects of fundraising, saying he therefore has no ready money at the moment. Tish pushes him to get a loan. Hmmm, is it the case that Martin has no money, or is he being cautious about trusting Tish and sending her money? 

Poppy’s mum, Paige, questions Tish about why Poppy hasn’t lost her hair with the chemo. Tish replies saying that’s not a common side-effect of this particular chemo. Oooh, does this imply the chemo that Tish has given Poppy is ineffective? Although this is the conventional chemo being used at the moment as the new drug hasn’t yet arrived.

Tish receives an email from her brother, Daniel, who is in Africa, they refer to the very expensive care-home that their parents are in. Tish also tells Daniel that Sam has ‘popped up again’ and has been causing trouble for her. Tish promises she will also protect Daniel from Sam, saying they have the truth on their side. Hmmm, is their parents’ care-home why Tish may need large funds? And interesting that it seems like whatever Sam was involved in with Tish also involved Daniel. 

Sam has asked Claudia to arrange a work placement day for Issy at Mount More Hospital with the aim this could then lead to a possible transfer. Mount More is where Tish works. Claudia asks if Sam is ‘desperate to get rid of her’, meaning Issy, and she also tells Sam that she has found out that Issy is on a disciplinary probation and has already been turned down for a transfer so therefore a transfer to Mount More isn’t possible for at least the next few months, and Claudia questions how well Sam actually knows Issy. Sam then asks for Issy to be given a quick tour of Mount More and requests this be on a Monday or Thursday. Sam goes to see Issy at home, which delights Issy enormously. Sam tells Issy that Claudia will speak to someone in Issy’s department about how horrible a particular person has been to Issy and will say that other staff have reported this so the person won’t know it came from Issy. Hmmm, I’m thinking the problem person is possibly Issy’s ward manager, and I also wonder what happened for Issy to be put on a disciplinary probation. I’m also wondering if Sam has chosen Mount More for Issy’s tour because she wants Issy to do something there for her regarding Tish, and I wonder the significance of the tour being on either Monday or Thursday. Are these the days that Tish doesn’t work perhaps, so she can then distance herself from whatever it is she may have asked Issy to do for her? 

The member of staff giving Issy the tour of Mount More reports afterwards to Claudia that Issy sneaked off when they were in the Paediatrics Chemo Ward and was asking staff questions about specific patients which the staff answered as they’d seen Issy being shown around earlier, and that Issy logged onto the central data system with access to patient and staff records. Claudia explains that Issy has a close friend whose daughter is receiving treatment and that Issy is struggling with the diagnosis so was probably only after general information. Later when Claudia sends Issy news of vacancies, Issy says she’s not looking to move jobs. Claudia tells Sam she will leave it a few weeks and then try again to contact Issy about vacancies as she doesn’t like to think of Sam having to be ‘fending off a leech all day’ and she suggests that Sam talks about moving to Mount More in order to encourage Issy to go there too and then after Issy moves Sam then doesn’t move. Oooh, what did Issy look for on the central data system at Mount More, and perhaps find, presumably for Sam? And with Issy saying she isn’t looking to move jobs, it sounds like the whole transfer thing was a lie from Sam. 

Issy asks Sam if Claudia has spoken to the ward manager yet, saying she is being just as nasty to Issy as ever, she refers to this ward-manager as YKW. I am wondering what YKW means, is it just the woman’s initials or a code? Oh, I’ve just realised it’s probably ‘You-Know-Who’! And I wonder if Sam has no intention of asking Claudia to intervene on Issy’s behalf and that she just wanted Issy on-side so she could get her to snoop in Mount More for her.

Tish emails her other brother, Ravi, asking him if he’s heard from Daniel as she hasn’t heard from him in a while and is worried he may have been harmed in the war-torn area. Ravi doesn’t think much of Daniel, saying Daniel doesn’t show any care for them or for their parents but that Tish protects and defends Daniel and Ravi knows she sends Daniel money. Hmmm, so supporting Daniel is yet more expenditure for Sam.

Martin emails the theatre group updating them on Poppy, he says they were taken in by a hoaxer, Clive, who promised all the funds so they then ordered the drugs from America before realising he was a hoaxer, so they now need £200,000 in the next couple of months. He also says Poppy has lost her hair and is going blind. Ooooh, we know both of those statements about Poppy’s hair loss and her going blind are untrue, Martin seems to just be digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself with these lies, even if he’s not actually fraudulent. 

Martin is emailed by his solicitor, Allardyce, chasing him for the payment which he was allowed three months’ grace to pay. Allardyce is working on Martin’s behalf to fight the builders who constructed the fence at The Grange and who Martin is refusing to pay as he believes the work is substandard. Allardyce recommends Martin pay the builders as he says the case and costs will just escalate, and he says if Martin wants to continue employing him to fight the builders then Martin needs to pay the outstanding money owed and further costs upfront. Martin tells Allardyce to continue fighting the builders, and says every penny he had has gone towards Poppy’s treatment but that he will find money from somewhere to pay the solicitors. Paige’s dog also needs emergency surgery, Martin pays this vet bill of £4000 although when he later asks Glen for details of their pet insurance Glen says they don’t have any insurance and that he’d have just had the dog put down. Martin kindly reassures Emma, the person looking after the dog for Paige while Poppy is ill, that it wasn’t anything she’d done that had caused this emergency surgery. However, he conceals the fact that the vet said it was junk food he had eaten at her house so it was her negligence that caused it. I’m impressed by Martin’s kindness in rushing to the vets when Emma contacted him and for paying the bill, though he’d obviously hoped to be paid back, and his kindness in sparing Emma’s feelings by pretending it was nothing she had done. Can he really be stealing from the appeal fund if he can be this kind?

Arnie emails Kel saying he’s just realised that it is his mum’s birthday but he left his wallet at his mum’s when he moved to Sam and Kel’s, so Kel lets him take his bank card and tells him the pin number. Arnie later contacts Kel asking him to pick him up from a village called Lockley Bois as he is stuck there and there are no trains. Kel does so, and they go onto the yogathon that has been arranged as a fundraising activity. Oh dear, I’m thinking this won’t end well and Arnie will steal all their money.

Sam has contacted someone in Genealogy & Archives to look into Helen, and she mentions death records. Hmmm, is she looking into Helen’s baby son who Helen had said died of meningitis, and if so then what has given Sam the thought that there is something suspicious about this?

Sarah-Jane tells Martin that Kevin’s colleague, Colin, has donated £50,000 so by her understanding the first course of drugs can be released from America. Kevin also tells Sarah-Jane that Colin has traced who Clive was from looking at email records, and that it was Sam. Oooh, it was Sam after all. And it will be interesting to see if Martin now gives the money to Tish to have the drugs sent over.

Arnie is punched at the yogathon after first trying to get a raffle ticket without paying, and then whispering to Martin that he knows Martin is Bhatoa’s bitch and that he is protecting a rapist. Martin later asks Tish what this could mean, adding that Arnie was brought there by Sam. Tish says Arnie meant her brother and explains her brother works in a clinic in Africa and that sometimes aid agencies clash in such a lawless and war-torn state but not to trust anything Sam says. Tish then emails Sam saying she knows what she’s trying to do and that she will ‘never get to him’. Oooh, I am wondering if Daniel raped Sam or raped women at the clinic and this is what Sam challenged, and that Daniel evaded the accusation somehow and instead got Sam thrown out of the aid agency, so she has been determined to try and punish him ever since and is perhaps also angry at Tish for protecting Daniel and helping him get away with what he did. 

Issy helps take Arnie to A&E. She mentions that Arnie gave Poppy a healing doll. Issy is concerned how unwell Arnie seems to be and thinks he isn’t yet ready for the workplace or to help with the play, and she wonders if he’s on the wrong medication or has an undiagnosed psychiatric condition. The hospital recommends he see a mental health team and gets addiction support.

Martin emails Glen saying he needs to tell people about Lydia Drake, that people will be angry and that he needs family support. Ooooh, what is this about, has he lost the money? And it sounds like Glen is involved too.

Claudia and Kel have been having an affair, Kel told Arnie who then told Sam. Claudia begs Sam not to tell her husband saying she has the kids to think about. Omg, there was something strange earlier with Issy emailing Kel having noticed he was sitting alone in the restaurant at lunch and inviting him to join her outside, and her then noticing later that Claudia was sat on her own in the restaurant, so they must have arranged to meet together in the restaurant. Oh no, how could Kel do this to Sam knowing everything she’s been through in Africa? And poor Sam being betrayed by her husband and her friend. 

Ravi questions Tish saying the care-home has contacted him as this month’s payment hasn’t been paid. Tish says she’s had cash-flow problems. She is still desperately worried not to have heard from Daniel, she says as he’s not involved with the big organisations then it would be hard for them to know if he’s lost. Oooh, is Daniel not involved with the big organisations because of what he did perhaps? And has Sam not managed to pay the care-home fee because Martin hasn’t sent her the second £125,000 payment? 

There is a letter on Sam’s desk from someone called Martha Diaz from a medical team in South Africa. It seems like this letter was actually found much later, presumably during the original investigation that Tanner was involved with, but it has been included here because it fits in chronologically. Martha says she’s never met Sam but has heard of her. She says they found a deserted clinic on the main refugee route, her team moved into the clinic and they gradually found out that the previous inhabitants of the clinic were Daniel Bhatoa and his colleagues and that Daniel was running the clinic. She says that Daniel’s group were working independently so weren’t pulled out of the area when things got more dangerous, and that she’s learnt they were then kidnapped by militants and taken to a camp and killed. She says Sam may be angry that Daniel was never brought to justice and also that he may now be hailed as a hero when his death becomes known, and that Sam may feel that Daniel deserved his fate. She says she wanted Sam to know before she heard it in the media. She says she’s tried to pass the news onto the relevant organisations but that it’s not possible at the moment for anyone to cross the border and confirm the deaths or retrieve the bodies. She says she thinks his next-of-kin is the sister who paid for his trial, but she’s not aware if the family knows yet about his death. She says there is a great deal of respect for Sam amongst the aid workers, and that people who didn’t believe something was going on have now been reassigned to admin jobs in the cities, she says that there are always people who will exploit vulnerable people and others who will protect the abusers. She thanks Sam for speaking up and says changes would not have been made if she hadn’t spoken up. Omg, so that sounds like Daniel abused the vulnerable patients he was supposed to care for, and when Sam found this out and challenged him Tish helped him escape punishment by paying for his trial. And now he is dead, what will Tish feel? 

Paige emails Tish thanking her for whatever she gave Poppy as she now seems more genuinely ill. She also says they have shaved her hair off, saying it was less traumatic than waiting for it to fall out. Oh god, has Tish not been giving Poppy any treatment at all, is the whole brain tumour diagnosis a lie just to get the family to raise money that she can steal? Surely the diagnosis must be real as Poppy’s been at the hospital having chemo. Or was this just a pretend chemo? But the hospital records must surely show the illness and treatment. Omg, or was it these records that Sam got Issy to look at, do the records not actually show Poppy as having treatment?

Sarah-Jane asks Martin again to confirm that the first batch of drugs is on its way after Colin’s donation of £50,000. Oh god, if Martin really is fraudulent then the pressure on him is just building and building now!

Issy is angry at Lauren referring to something that happened at work and Lauren saying how badly it affected her and how glad she is to get out. Issy says in reply, but doesn’t send this reply, that it didn’t affect Lauren at all because Issy was blamed for what happened, that Issy had thought they would share the blame even though it was Lauren who actually did it, and she thought that Lauren would be grateful to her forever for sharing the blame but she then found out that Lauren told people it was Issy who had done it, knowing that Issy couldn’t then say it wasn’t her as she’d have to then admit she was lying before. Omg, what did Lauren do? And this explains why Issy is cold towards Lauren. 

There was a burglary of a home in Lockley Bois, owned by retired art and antiques dealer, Robert Green. The three burglars seemed to be looking for a particular piece of artwork and were knowledgeable about the African crafts at the house, they also seemed to think that Green was due to travel that day so wouldn’t be at home but his plans had changed and he was at home when they broke in. It is reported that an African healing doll was stolen. Omg, this is Arnie, isn’t it, and he gave the doll to Poppy?! 

Sam has contacted the police about money stolen from their bank accounts. Omg, this must be Arnie again. 

Tish continues to try and find out information about Daniel, she is told by the African Directorate of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that he moved from Bangui several months ago after the funding for his women’s health clinic was refused. The Foreign Office thinks he may have travelled east into remote and war-torn territory where it is difficult to make contact, but say that they will continue to try and find out more. Ravi wonders if the accusations made it hard for Daniel to stay in Bangui. Hmmm, so Daniel had obviously not told Tish that he’d left Bangui, and was still pretending to be there.

Martin sends an email to the theatre group saying he has lost £80,000 after being conned by investment banker, Lydia Drake. He says he’s been aware for some time that the original £250,000 fundraising aim is far short of what they actually need, and that they need closer to a million but that he didn’t want to rely more on all those who have already raised so much so he grabbed this opportunity offered by Lydia to raise money more quickly. He says Sarah-Jane and James and Glen all warned him against this, and it was Glen who discovered the fraud, he describes Glen as his ‘rock’. Sarah-Jane reminds Martin to contact the police about Lydia, and says that Colin has helped them discover who Clive was so he may be able to find out Lydia’s real identity too. Sarah-Jane gives the details of Lydia Drake and the money involved to the journalist who is publicising Colin’s donation, asking him to expose the fraud so as to warn others and in the hope it may also generate more donations for Poppy. They publish this and then forward a copy to Martin, also asking him for the name of the police team dealing with this, and for a description of Lydia and her office address and any details she gave about herself. Martin tells Sarah-Jane to immediately have the story removed. Sarah-Jane reassures Martin that he mustn’t be embarrassed about his mistake, that donations have been rolling in after the article was published and that surely the police have advised him to tell as many people as possible. Martin says he didn’t want the police ‘poking into everything’ so hadn’t told them and say that it’s a family matter. Kevin reassures Sarah-Jane that Colin will run a check on Lydia’s email codes, so they can then go to the police themselves. Omg, Martin’s reaction and obvious reluctance to take this further and alert the police leads me to wonder if Lydia actually is genuine and did make the money for Martin but he intends to use this extra money for something else so pretended to the others that Lydia was a con-artist. Although why then tell people in the first place about the supposed theft, as he could have just put back the £80,000 and kept the rest? Or is he being extra greedy and wanting to keep it all so needs to find a story for why the £80,000 has gone while he keeps it all? Or did he just have to say something, as he’d already told Sarah-Jane about meeting Lydia? But I don’t see how he can spend this money on himself or The Grange without people noticing and wondering. And surely it would be very foolish of him to imagine that he could avoid going to the police about this supposed theft or that the theatre group would keep it to themselves. I wonder what Colin is going to find out about Lydia Drake. If Martin has lied about her not being genuine then he has just dug himself a huge hole, and if she is genuine then Glen must be involved in this pretence too. 

Tish receives a ‘cheap’ condolence card sent to her at the hospital with a local postmark saying ‘RIP the Bangui Baba’. Hmmm, is this from Sam, and has she done this actually out of some version of kindness just so Tish knows her brother is dead rather than always wondering what has happened to him? We are shown the handwritten message and it’s a mix of capitals and small letters, I did wonder if it matched the writing on the post-it notes which are throughout the book (not knowing who wrote these post-it notes) but I don’t think it does.

Sam starts asking Sarah-Jane about Martin and Helen’s trustworthiness. Sarah-Jane then tells Sam that they know she was Clive. Martin also emails Tish telling her they’ve found out that Sam pretended to be Clive. Tish replies saying Sam is responsible for the death of her brother after she accused him of abusing the women and children he’d tried to treat and heal, and that Sam spread lies and made her brother an outcast in that area so he was forced to move to somewhere even more dangerous where he was killed, she says she ‘has nothing left to lose’. Oh dear, Tish is sounding dangerous. But I did smile at Martin’s short banal response to Tish, after her emotional and angry and heartfelt and grieving email to him. And phew, when I said earlier that nothing much was happening, well that’s not the case now, it seems like there is almost too much going on! 

I’m wondering if Issy is actually quite sharp and clever. Was she hinting to Sam about Claudia and Kel having an affair when she said she first saw Kel alone in the restaurant and then saw Claudia alone? And was she hinting to Sam that it may have been Arnie involved in the robbery when she forwarded Sam the newspaper article about the robbery and said Arnie may have seen something as he was in the area? I remember she also identified Arnie’s mental state fairly swiftly. I’m wondering now if her inefficient minute-taking was actually deliberate and she was drawing attention to the two-facedness of the people there and the foolishness of their decision-making. And although we never see any correspondence from Sam, Issy’s replies seem to hint that Sam has planned things with Issy so perhaps when Issy seems delusional and to be reading more into the friendship than is really there, then perhaps this isn’t actually the case. Issy is continually being described as drippy and clingy, but are we actually being led towards this view for some reason? James has described Issy as a dark horse too. 

I’m also wondering about the post-it notes throughout the book, I’m guessing they are there to draw our attention to significant points, but who is writing these? Femi and Charlotte seem logical choices. We can see Tanner’s handwriting at the start of the book and this doesn’t match the post-it notes. For my reference, I’ve jotted down where the post-it notes are in the book, they are on page 9 giving information on the family members of the Haywards and Reswicks and MacDonalds and Dearings, on page 37 with an asterisk and an NB on the email when Tish first threatens Sam (I puzzled for ages thinking the letter N was a U and wondering what ‘UB’ could mean, tee hee, but I’ve eventually realised that the capital N in the post-it on page 9 is the same as what I’d presumed was a letter U, so I am now content it is NB, not UB and meaning some mysterious code!), on page 63 being an addition of the sums raised on the email where Martin says the invoice for The Grange will be £20,000, on page 104 noting the first meeting between Lydia and Martin, on page 108 with an NB and noting Arnie’s first email and that Kel has a new email address since returning from Africa, on page 153 with 3 asterisks and the words ‘“Issy’s” tour’ (why is Issy’s name in inverted commas?), on page 164 with the words ‘must have been going on a while’ on the email to Martin from his solicitor chasing payment, on page 170 with the words ‘WTF? Why a genealogist?’ on the email from the genealogist, on page 185 with the words ‘doll first mentioned’ on the email from Paige to Glen questioning the doll someone has left Poppy, on page 207 with the words ‘was Issy Clive Handler?’, and on Sarah-Jane’s email telling Issy not to come to the next fundraising committee to take minutes.

Someone called Jackie Marsh asks Martin for her donation back saying she had accidentally given more than she intended, and she is travelling and the police have her passport and want money from her. Phew, I’m sensing there’s little chance of her getting her donation back at this point!

Sam goes to the police saying Arnie was the burglar at Lockley Bois, that he was in Lockley Bois on that day, that she witnessed him give the African healing doll to Poppy, that he had been in Africa so was knowledgeable about African artefacts, that he has stolen money from her bank accounts, that he likely has psychotic episodes and is addicted to opiates, that he is currently living with her and her husband, and that she fears for the safety of those he is in contact with. He is arrested. Oooh, I’m beginning to wonder if Arnie is the one arrested for the murder, who Tanner suspects isn’t guilty from the blurb on the back. It could again fit that it’s Sam who is murdered, as Arnie would seem to have a grudge against her.

Issy calls the police saying Sam is being attacked at the hospital, that a woman pushed her into Isolation Ward and locked the door. Frances Turner, the ward-manager, takes over the call to the police saying their help isn’t needed, but the police are already on their way. The identity of the woman who attacked Sam isn’t stated. I am presuming it is Tish with her blaming Sam for the death of her brother. Femi thinks the attacker is Claudia because Sam told Claudia’s husband, Michael, about the affair, although Femi then goes on to say it was actually Issy who told Michael. Did Issy do this, have I missed this? I remember Issy was asking Sam if Claudia had spoken to the ward-manager yet and Issy saying she’d found out that Claudia’s husband Michael works in PR at the hospital so if Claudia continues to not respond to Sam’s emails then they could contact Michael and ask him to forward their messages to Claudia, but this seemed all to do with Issy’s ward-manager. Or are we supposed to think that and it’s really Issy being a ‘dark horse’ again, is this what Femi takes to be Issy telling Michael of the affair? But back to the possible identity of Sam’s attacker, the ward-manager Frances and Issy would surely know Claudia as she works in HR, Issy definitely knows her as she said Claudia was sat on her own in the restaurant, so I’m therefore thinking it can’t be Claudia otherwise they’d have said this. I’m then thinking that Frances and Issy possibly may not know Tish though, which would explain why they don’t say the attacker’s name. Or do they know the identity of the attacker but just didn’t use her name when speaking to the police or to each other? But then why not, or is this just to heighten curiosity in the reader? 

Issy and Frances tell the police that neither actually saw the woman push Sam into the room, the incident was reported to them by another nurse. Sam has been taken to A&E, the police report states that she told the police that the attack was unprovoked but understandable and that she knew the woman, the police report also states that neither of the women have decided to press charges so no further action will be taken. Grrrr, why aren’t we being given the woman’s name? Is there more to this, is it actually someone really unexpected, like Helen after finding out that Sam was Clive, or finding out that Sam was digging into the death of her son? The police obviously know who the attacker is. Are we not being told, as it is this attacker who the police arrest when/if Sam is murdered so then her identity will be a big shock to us? 

Glen contacts Martin saying the police are at their house, Martin responds saying ‘surely they’d come here first’ and asks Glen if he can hide. After a delay, Glen eventually replies to Martin saying the police visit was just about the stolen doll. Oooh, this seems to imply that Martin has done something he could be arrested for, and that Glen is complicit in it but not the instigator and planner of it. 

Arnie is interviewed at the police station by Sgts Cooper and Crowe. Arnie’s duty solicitor is Ms Anand. The police refer to Kel as Sean Kelly Greenwood. Arnie says he owed money to the other burglars for heroin and they told him that if he took part in the burglary then his debts would be cleared, he says he didn’t take part in the beating and torture and tried to distance himself from that. He says that he recognised the doll as a African healing doll and felt it should belong to a young girl rather than the grown-up male owner of the house, so he took it for Poppy and that this therefore wasn’t theft as the healing doll is old and powerful and protects little girls. He also says he hoped that if he gave the healing doll to Poppy then that kind gesture might heal him too. He also says he hates what Kel has done to Sam. Arnie is tearful and distressed and faints in the interview. Hmmm, is there any significance to Kel using a shortened version of his middle name rather than his proper name of Sean? 

Is it significant why some police reports are typed and some handwritten? The one regarding the burglary by Constable Warwick Turner is typed, the one regarding Sam reporting Arnie is handwritten by Constable Warwick Turner, the one detailing the attack on Sam at the hospital is handwritten by Constable Josie Thompson, and the transcript of Issy’s phone call to the police when Sam is attacked is the regular font of the rest of the book as is the interview with Arnie. I guess it might mean nothing though and it’s just the unofficial nature of the report that makes it handwritten, as the two handwritten ones are labelled as extracts from their notebooks. I’m probably just looking for things that aren’t there now, and seeing possible significance in everything! 

Issy emails Claudia having found her email address on the staff intranet. She details Sam’s attack, saying she herself wasn’t there but that her ward manager saw the whole thing and has to now complete an incident report for HR, Issy says there is a zero tolerance policy of violence between staff and that acts of violence can result in instant dismissal, and that she is contributing to the incident report. She mentions how loyal Claudia is to Sam, though adds at the end of the email that she’s heard that Claudia is far closer to Kel now. Claudia replies saying Issy is lying and that Claudia saw her there, she calls Issy sly and accuses her of making trouble behind people’s backs and tells her she is a sad and lonely loser who no-one likes, she says Sam has been plotting to get Issy off the ward and out of her life and that Sam says Issy is clingy and a leech and a vampire and that Sam had begged Claudia to organise the tour of Mount More to try and get rid of Issy. Claudia also says she knows that Issy nearly killed someone and would have been sacked if her colleague hadn’t stepped in and resuscitated them. Issy replies saying she knows that Claudia is jealous of her friendship with Sam and is trying to break them up with lies but that they are stronger than that. Issy also says she didn’t have a tour of Mount More and hasn’t been there since 2009. Phew, there’s a huge amount to think about with these emails. So firstly Femi was right and it was Claudia who attacked Sam, I am really shocked by this, I felt sure it was Tish. Claudia seems very very angry and going out of her way to be hurtful to Issy in this email, we’ve not seen this behaviour from her before, apart from the attack on Sam obviously, is this really in character for someone who works in HR, although I suppose if she blames Sam and Issy for telling her husband about the affair then I guess she would be angry. Are Claudia’s words true to Issy about what Sam really thinks of her, or is she making this up to hurt Issy? And although Issy’s response to Claudia is short and dismissive, surely Issy is very shocked and hurt and angry at Sam for saying these things about her. And this shows that Issy was being sneaky when she emailed Claudia pretending not to know the identity of the attacker and saying that she feels they should be dismissed, as she obviously did know it was Claudia and it reads now like Issy was actually threatening Claudia with saying she was contributing to the incident report. And what does Issy mean by not doing the tour of Mount More, as she replied to Claudia saying she enjoyed the visit? Omg, I’ve just realised the emails from Issy to the person who gave her the tour, and the email from Issy thanking Claudia for organising the tour, are from the email address ‘Issy Beck’ rather than her usual one of ‘Isabel Beck’!! Omg, so was it Sam who actually took the tour, and did she specify it be on a Monday or Thursday as these are days that Claudia doesn’t work, in case Claudia also accompanied ‘Issy’ on the tour? And I’m remembering again the post-it note with the email regarding the Mount More tour which has the name Issy in inverted commas, so is the writer of the post-it note also implying that this wasn’t actually Issy who took the tour or sent the emails? Oooh, this is clever! 

Issy emails Sam about the attack and asks her why Claudia did it, but adds that it may be that they never find out the reason. Hmmm, Issy says they’ll perhaps never know the reason for the attack but in her email to Claudia she mentions Kel, so it appears Issy does know about the affair which is presumably the reason for the attack.

Issy then emails Sam again detailing the reason she’s on a disciplinary probation, she says this is because when they were working in Orthopaedics, Lauren accidentally added the wrong drug to a drip and the patient went into shock, but that Issy spotted the mistake in time and as Lauren had been in trouble before for other mistakes so this would have meant dismissal for her, Issy agreed to share the blame, but when Lauren was interviewed she blamed it all on Issy and said she wasn’t even there, but Issy then couldn’t say she’d lied at the beginning to protect Lauren as she’d have been in trouble for that lie. Oh god, it all sounds a bit overly complicated (and therefore unlikely?).

Rumours spread before the final rehearsal that Sam was Lydia Drake and she has stolen the £80,000. Issy hears these rumours and defends Sam. Partway through the rehearsal, Sam announces to the cast that the appeal is a financial conspiracy, that there are no experimental drugs, that Poppy is having regular chemo at Mount More, that Poppy’s records are being kept on Tish’s private records rather than the hospital records, that Martin and Helen are exploiting Poppy’s illness and that things they have told the cast in order to engage them with the appeal, such as Helen’s baby son dying of meningitis, are just fabrications for financial gain, and that if Martin and Helen have been the victim of a fraud by Lydia Drake then they deserve to be beaten at their own game. Sam also acknowledges that she did pretend to be Clive but said she did this to investigate if the appeal was a fraud. Omg, this is all a sensation! I’m thinking the first accusations could be directed at Tish, but the latter ones seem to imply that Martin and Helen have also been dishonest with the fund. 

Martin afterwards emails Sam, copying in Sarah-Jane, he is polite to Sam and mentions her accusation that the appeal is ‘poorly run’, he also says that Helen’s baby’s death happened long before he met Helen and that they can provide proof of this if needed, and he quotes again from the heartfelt letter from the family who lost their child and makes out that these are his feelings. Sarah-Jane replies to Martin reminding him of the stronger words than ‘poorly run’ that Sam used about the appeal, and she also says she spotted that no-one seemed to support Sam when she said these things, including neither Kel or Issy, and that Sam was shouting at Issy in the carpark afterwards and grabbed Issy’s arm, and then Kel drove off with Sam. Martin then emails Paige asking her to take on Sam’s role in the play. Hmmm, the way Martin quotes from that heartfelt letter makes me suspicious of him, or perhaps he is just that shallow and callous. And interesting that Sam was shouting at Issy afterwards in the carpark, we don’t hear more about what that was about and what was said. And why does Kel not support Sam in saying these things? Sam must be convinced they are true, and surely he can’t stand by and watch people steal from an appeal fund.

Sarah-Jane goes to Emma’s that night to ask her about Martin and Helen’s history, as Emma has known them all her life as she was at school with Paige. Emma says in primary school Paige spoke about a big brother who had died before she was born, so Emma is convinced the story about Helen having a son who died as a baby is true. Hmmm, I hadn’t doubted that it was true, but now Sarah-Jane seems to be doubting it, I am doubting it!

Also that night, Claudia messages Kel saying she is outside the Travellers Inn, she says ‘no-one seems to know anything and I couldn’t get through to him’. Oooh, who is ‘him’, and what do people not know anything about? 

Arnie emails Kel that night saying that he’s been given bail and has his key, so Kel doesn’t need to wait up for him as he will go straight to bed when he gets to the flat. Hmmm, but I’m guessing Kel isn’t at the flat as he’s with Claudia at the Travellers Inn. 

Also that night, Issy emails Lauren detailing what happened at that night’s abandoned rehearsal, and says that Sam was suffering from concussion and said things she didn’t mean or believe. Issy also emails Martin and Sarah-Jane saying Sam said things she didn’t mean or believe, but that if Sam doesn’t come back to the play then she is happy to take over Sam’s role. Oooh, when she says Sam said things she didn’t mean or believe, is she actually referring to something Sam said to Issy in the carpark? Although why would Sam be angry at Issy, when she has been so loyal and faithful to Sam? 

Martin also emails Tish that night saying he needs to warn her that Sam has accused them both of a financial conspiracy. He gets an ‘out of office’ reply from Tish saying she is out of the country on a personal matter. Oooh, I’m presuming she has gone to Africa to find out more about Daniel.

There is a message left on Sam’s and Kel’s answer-machine from a person called Andy saying they have found something very interesting ‘across the pond’ about the mum being ill and that this explains everything and that if it can be verified then they must tell, and asking them to call Andy immediately. Ooooh, I am thinking this is Andrea from Genealogy & Archives who Sam contacted about Helen. And I note the message says it is untimed, so it’s not clear at what point in the day it was left and if Sam and Kel have heard it, the message was obviously left when they were out of the flat but if it was left earlier in the day and Sam listened to it before the rehearsal then this could be what prompted her to accuse Helen of lying about her baby.

James and Olivia’s twin babies are born that night, they are named Sophia Grace and Arthur Martin. Hmmm, is the name Grace from Helen’s maiden name, and if so isn’t this a strange choice? And I’ve just noticed that James announces this as a social media post but his name on it is James Haywood not Hayward, what can this mean, it must mean something?

Tanner then tells Femi and Charlotte that Sam was found murdered between 11pm on 4th July and 4am on 5th July, but that her body was undiscovered for 24 hours so some of the following emails could be from people who already knew that Sam was dead. Omg, even though I was guessing it was Sam who was killed, it is still a shock to see it written like that! So 4th July was the evening of the abandoned rehearsal and this is when Sam was killed.

Issy emails Sam on the morning of 5th July asking why she’s not at work that morning and asking if she is sick. Four minutes later, she emails Kel asking him if Sam is coming into work. Hmmm, is there anything suspicious with how swiftly she emailed Kel? She hadn’t given Sam long to reply before she emailed him, or perhaps she’s just keen to protect Sam from getting into trouble for being off work. Or are we being led to suspect that Issy knows that Sam is dead and is trying to cover for this by pretending to enquire after her whereabouts?

Sarah-Jane congratulates James on the birth of the twins, and asks if he can play Kel’s role in the play if Kel doesn’t turn up. Joyce (a neighbour of Sam and Kel’s, and also a helper with the theatre) emails her friend saying that Kel and Sam have split up as Kel was seen at the Travellers Inn with another woman, and that this explains why Joyce hadn’t seen either Sam or Kel leave their flat for work that morning. Joyce also says she saw Arnie leave the flat with his rucksack at 5am. Joyce says she may go over to their flat later to see if Sam is alright. She later emails her friend saying that when she went over to their flat there was no answer. Hmmm, so what does this mean that Arnie was in the flat when Sam was there dead? I guess he could have just gone straight to bed as he said he was going to and so not have been aware that Sam was laying dead. I doubt he killed her, as he obviously cared for her and felt bad for her with Kel cheating on her, and even if he found out that she had told the police about him being involved with the burglary and stealing their money, then killing her wouldn’t change the fact that the police already knew this.

Issy emails Lauren mid-morning saying that Sam has gone back to Africa and that Sam told Issy this in the carpark after the abandoned rehearsal, Issy also says people will soon forget Sam. Oooh, what does this mean? Issy seems to have swiftly dismissed Sam, so is this because Sam said hurtful things to Issy in the carpark? I am tempted to discount that Sam said to Issy that she was going back to Africa.

Martin messages James apologising and saying he ‘didn’t think it would ever come to it’ and that he should have listened to James and ‘it got out of hand and now this’. Oooh, is this a reference to them stealing money from Poppy’s fund, or about Helen’s baby? And whichever it is, it seems James was in on it with Martin.

Tish receives confirmation from a person called Selima that Daniel was kidnapped with three other people by a militia in Faradje and taken into Southern Sudan and was killed. Tish asks why he was in Faradje, saying that he had been in Bangui for nine years and had told her he was still in Bangui. Selima says ‘Daniel and his companions were discovered to have behaved inappropriately with the women and children in their care’ and that she has spoken to women who were abused by him, that it was investigated but only one person spoke out so it was dismissed, that the people in the area who knew and supported Daniel had left, and that the clinic also had money concerns, so Daniel moved. Tish asks Selima if the accusations were actually true and not just rumours, and says that it is very important that she knows as she can’t have any doubt. Selima confirms they were true. Oooh, poor Tish to find out that her brother lied to her and to know that she had defended him and helped him evade justice. And could her horror at finding out he did this also be because she has already killed Sam? Or would the timings not match, would she already be in Africa by the time of Sam’s death, going on the ‘out of office’ message on her reply to Martin? Although I guess an ‘out of office’ can be put on at any time.

Sarah-Jane emails Kel asking if he will be acting in the play. She obviously receives a reply from him as she then responds insisting that she was listening but that Sam was wrong about the Haywards and goes on to give Kel details of when they bought The Grange saying they built it up from scratch. She urges both Kel and Sam to turn up for the performance. Hmmm, so she seems to think Sam is still alive, and I can’t think of any reason why she would kill Sam. And why oh why don’t we see emails from Kel? Is it that he’s the one who is arrested for the murder and as Tanner is convinced that Kel didn’t do it then he only gives Femi and Charlotte the emails of the other suspects?

Kevin tells Sarah-Jane that Colin has traced Lydia Drake’s emails to a computer at The Grange used by Magda, the receptionist. Sarah-Jane emails Martin this news, and Martin then forwards Sarah-Jane’s email to Glen and James, saying ‘one problem subsides as another rears its ugly head’. James tells Glen to reply to Sarah-Jane telling her to keep it quiet and that they’ll deal with it as a family. Oooh, I don’t imagine it was Magda pretending to be Lydia, but now I’m confused as I’d thought Martin was lying about Lydia being fraudulent and that she had successfully invested the £80,000 for him and raised lots of money for him from this, which Martin had then used for himself rather than for Poppy, but if Lydia was fake in the first place and it was someone at The Grange pretending to be her, then my guess can’t be right. But it seems that Martin and James and Glen are all involved in it. And what does Martin mean by ‘one problem subsides’, this can’t be a reference to Sam now out of the way as they’ve killed her, surely?

Kel turns up for the play, but he has a limp. Hmmm, are we meant to suspect he’s the killer from him having this limp? I feel like we’re being shown lots of red herrings here and being made to think that almost anyone could have done it!

James asks Issy if she’s seen Sam, and she just sends the one word ‘no’. Issy is also beginning to email Lauren in a much friendlier way. Hmmm, this seems unusual for Issy to be so short in an email with that one word ‘no’ to James about not seeing Sam, and there’s no defence of Sam from her or excuses for Sam, I wonder again if Sam said hurtful things to Issy. And is Issy being friendly with Lauren because she doesn’t now have Sam so is reaching out to Lauren instead?

Issy is offered a lift home after the play by the Hallidays who realise she has been left there on her own and doesn’t drive. But Issy asks to be dropped off at Sam and Kel’s flat rather than her own home as she tells them she has something for Kel, even though they tell her that Kel has left the flat and was with another woman at the Travellers Inn. They describe Issy as being adamant to be taken to the flat. There is then a transcript of someone calling the police saying they have found Sam’s body under a hedge behind the flats, that Sam has ‘been there a whole day. She hasn’t moved’ and that she fell off the balcony. The caller is asked for their name and begins as if they are going to say it but then breaks off to say ‘you can see Topps Tiles from up there’. Omg!! This is surely Issy, as she has said before about seeing Topps Tiles from Sam’s flat and she insisted on being dropped off at the flat by the Hallidays. But why did she ask to be dropped off there, was it to see Sam either to gloat about how the play went or to beg for her friendship? But that then means that she thought Sam was still alive, so she can’t be the killer. Or if she was going to drop something off for Kel, then what was it and did she actually have anything with her? It’s tempting to think she wanted the body to be discovered as she knew it was there as she’d done the murder, but she was only offered a lift by chance so she couldn’t have planned to go there beforehand.

Tanner says to Femi and Charlotte that that was all the correspondence submitted at the original hearing, he reminds them that most people wrote their emails never intending them to be read by anyone other than the receiver but to bear in mind that the guilty person could have written certain things in their emails with the intention of misleading or to provide them with an alibi. He says that he believes an innocent person is in jail for this murder and he hopes their fresh young eyes will find something in the emails which was missed at the trial, and they must present their case to the Court of Appeal next week. He says Sam’s injuries were consistent with a fall from that height, that she had other injuries but these came from the attack the day before, that there were no signs of forced entry to Sam’s flat the night she died, and that Topps Tiles is not visible from the balcony of the flat. He also says officially Sam was forced to resign from her post in Africa due to ill health, and that Sam and Kel were on drugs to control Hepatitis C contracted in Africa and they didn’t disclose this to the hospital they worked at in England so Kel has now been suspended for this and has resigned. He also says that Issy was on a disciplinary probation for 18 months after attaching the wrong intravenous bag to a patient who then had to be resuscitated. He asks them to work out who killed Sam. He also asks them to work out some other things, these being who were the three people that Sam told things to before her death and what did she tell them, who knew Sam was going to be killed, who knew Sam had been killed before her body was discovered, who is erroneously imprisoned and why, who are the three people who aren’t who they say they are, who are the three people masquerading as others, and who is the person that doesn’t exist at all. There then follows a List of Individuals. Phew, there’s a lot to find out there! But why is Tanner not giving Femi and Charlotte the details of who has been wrongly jailed, and how do they not know this as surely this case was in the media? I was thinking it was Kel who had been wrongly jailed as it seems tidy that both Sam’s and Kel’s emails aren’t included, Sam because she’s the victim and Kel because he’s the one arrested, but I’m thinking now it can’t be Kel as Tanner said he was suspended and then resigned which implies he had the freedom to do this. Could it be though that the person wrongly jailed, did in actual fact do it, could the author be that mean to us? I do think it’s a very clever idea though to have the case presented to us by Tanner and have him summarise what we are supposed to be looking for, eg three people masquerading as others, etc, though it also makes it more frustrating as I am then obsessed with what I’ve clearly missed! And I’m a bit confused with the List of Individuals as there seems to be people on there that are either very minor or I don’t remember being mentioned at all.

Omg, my head is aching! I have decided to read back through the last few days (and probably further, though I will try to resist re-reading the whole book!) to look for clues to Tanner’s questions and the timeline of what happened between the abandoned rehearsal, which was the night when Sam was killed, and her body being found, before going on with the rest of the book. I don’t really have a gut feeling on who the murderer is though, apart from perhaps Tish as she had the most to gain as Sam suspected Tish was stealing the money for the experimental drug and also Tish blamed Sam for Daniel’s death, but then if Tish seems the obvious person then is it likely (following the rules of detective fiction) that she didn’t do it. None of the people in the theatre group seem like murderers, dishonest yes and in particular Martin, but not murderers.

Now that I have re-read through the last few days, I have such a jumble of thoughts, not necessarily helping me answer Tanner’s questions above, but more questions that are puzzling me! When Claudia messages Kel outside the Travellers Inn, could she be telling him that no-one knows anything about where Sam is, and it was Arnie she couldn’t manage to contact to ask him about Sam’s whereabouts? Where did Kel leave Sam when they drove away in the same car after the abandoned rehearsal? Where has Kel’s limp come from? Where was Arnie going that morning when he left the flat with his rucksack, and why did he go back to the flat in the first place when it must have been obvious to him that Sam and Kel would be angry at him for stealing from their bank accounts? Is it significant how Issy travelled to the play in the first place, as she doesn’t drive and it sounds like she had a lift from Sam and Kel on previous occasions but she obviously didn’t get a lift from Kel this time as when she emails James she says they’re all pleased that Kel is there and that she hadn’t had time to speak to Kel yet? Oooh I’m wondering if Issy went to Sam’s flat to try and convince her to attend the play and to ask for a lift and she then found Sam’s body, but doesn’t say anything and this is why she’s desperate to be taken there after the play so she can officially ‘discover’ it. I’m also wondering too if Issy could be using emails as a way to document things and lay a trail/alibi, as there are times when her emails seem unnecessary, such as when she emails Sam and then says ‘see you in a minute’ so she clearly could have just spoken to her a moment later, and she also emails a reply to the Hallidays when they offer her a lift after the play when surely this reply just delays her leaving and meeting them in the carpark for the lift, and during the play Sarah-Jane responds to Issy’s message and asks why she couldn’t have spoken to her instead of messaging as they were there together a moment before. It could just be that this allows the author to keep to her chosen aim of telling the story solely by emails, but now thinking what Tanner said about some of the emailers planning for their words to be read and therefore being deliberately misleading, then is there actually a reason Issy emails things, she is the most prolific messager after all. I’m also wondering if there is something more to Issy saying that she ‘was struck by how alike they are’ referring to Paige and Helen, what could she mean by this? There’s surely no way that one could have pretended to be the other in order to provide an alibi. And the blurb on the front of the book says 15 suspects for the murder, so who exactly are these 15 people? There’s Martin and Helen and James (surely not Olivia, as she’s giving birth) and Glen and Paige and Kel and Arnie and Sarah-Jane and Kevin and Issy and Tish and Claudia. But who are the others, is it Emma and Magda and Michael? Or is the blurb just irrelevant and is just to entice the reader to pick up the book, rather than being something the author actually wrote? I’ve also had a quick glance back at people’s email addresses and I can’t see any other examples of different email addresses for people, as there were for Issy Beck and Isabel Beck, but there is that odd thing of James Haywood rather than Hayward announcing the birth of the twins. I’m also wondering why Sam got so fixated on Helen’s dead son, this kind of seems a strange thing for her to focus on as it seems insignificant compared to the other lies that Sam suspects, such as the money being stolen from the fund. Is it because there is more to Helen than we realise? And I’m thinking we also don’t have emails from Helen, so is that significant? Maybe Sam suspects that Helen did fundraising before for her son and stole from that fund, and this is why Sam thinks Helen’s son may not have actually existed. I’m also wondering again about Poppy’s treatment and how she didn’t seem to be unwell from it or lose her hair, so what ‘treatment’ is she therefore getting, is the tumour a complete lie cooked up between Martin and Tish with an agreement that they split the money from the appeal, and this is also why Poppy’s notes aren’t kept at the hospital? But I can’t see how they could do that and not have so many more people involved.

Oh god, there’s no way this whole story is just a play, is it?! I’m just remembering with The Twyford Code with a story within a story. Could it be that Issy doesn’t really exist and she has just written and directed this whole thing as a play, and her emails are her writing and directing it (as she has the largest email correspondence in this)? Femi and Charlotte also note that Issy is the only one not to be named in the newspaper’s review of the play, that her character Lydia is mentioned but not the actress who plays her, so is there something in this? I’m also thinking that Kel’s name is unusual and Helen’s character in the All My Sons play is Kate Keller, so does this link with the name Kel? Also the All My Sons play is written by Arthur Miller, and James’ newborn son is called Arthur. I then wondered if All My Sons was actually a real play by Arthur Miller, and I see it is and have read a little about it on Wikipedia, and in the play there is someone missing in action after the Second World War which could be similar to Daniel missing. And also in the All My Sons play there is someone doing dodgy business practices, which could be similar to Martin doing that. Also every single participant is listed by Tanner for Femi and Charlotte, much like every single character is listed in a play. I’m also wondering if there is anything significant that All My Sons was based on true events and that it uses the ‘idea of two partners in a business where one is forced to take moral and legal responsibility for the other’ and the play has the ‘idea of a character’s idealism being the source of a problem’, so could this be being replicated in this story with Martin and Helen being partners in The Grange and one of them having to take moral and legal responsibility for the other, and that Sam is the character with idealism who is the source of the problem? Oh god, I fear I am getting far far far too deep into this (though thoroughly enjoying myself!), I feel my mind can’t take any more now. I do hope all my hard work taking notes and mulling things over is justified and rewarded (and I am almost ashamed of how much time I’ve devoted to all this!), I hope I’ve not been wasting my time, I do hope the end of the book does it justice. Right, enough speculating and driving myself crazy, I will continue reading the book. 

Tanner provides Femi and Charlotte with extra correspondence which wasn’t available at the trial. This includes information that Tish hired consultants to investigate Martin’s historical criminal history and financial profiling. Martin tells Tish he’s also done research and due diligence on her and says this is why he came to Tish and ‘suggested this in the first place’, he also says that he has no assets left now and ‘you know what that’s like’. Martin is also in some kind of 12-step recovery programme from GA. Tish emails Sam on 5th July apologising and saying she now knows that Dan was guilty and that he wasn’t the man she thought he was, she also tells Sam to stay away from the Haywards. Kevin emails Sarah-Jane going over their movements the evening of the play/Sam’s murder, and ends his email with the words ‘sound plausible?’. Issy tells Lauren that she won’t be emailing her any more, that she doesn’t know why she emailed her in the first place, and that her only real friend has left and she is now making a new start. Hmmm, so Martin and Tish are definitely in league together, and both are desperate for money so probably willing to do dodgy things to get money. And I’m thinking the GA recovery programme that Martin is involved in is Gamblers Anonymous which would make it even more likely that he needs funds. And Tish’s email to Sam seems to imply that she doesn’t know Sam is dead so presumably she isn’t therefore the killer, I’m also intrigued by her warning Sam to stay away from the Haywards and if she is implying that they would hurt her or just that they are dishonest. I’m confused with Kevin’s email to Sarah-Jane too, as I can’t imagine that they are the killers.

Tanner confirms that Issy used Sam’s laptop in Sam’s flat to email Michael telling him that Claudia was having an affair, she deleted the email from sent items and blocked Michael’s email address so he couldn’t then reply to Sam’s email address, thereby preventing Sam from knowing what she had done. He also confirms that Topps Tiles is visible from the window above the computer desk so it was here that Issy saw it and not from the balcony. He pushes Femi and Charlotte to consider who does not exist, saying it is a matter of corroboration. And he says they should focus on who benefits most from Sam’s death, not who loses most, and that he thinks revenge is unlikely to be a strong enough benefit. Oooh, I hadn’t guessed that the email to Michael was actually from Issy. And with Tanner saying that revenge is unlikely to be a strong enough benefit for killing, I think this then removes Tish and Claudia from the list of likely suspects.

Tanner says the person who is wrongly imprisoned is Issy, and that she confessed and maintains to this day that she did it. Eeek, that’s a shocker! And if Tanner believes Issy is innocent then why did she confess, is she trying to protect someone else? There is only James she could possibly care about enough to protect. Or she would definitely protect Sam, is there something in that? Oh god, is it going to be that the dead body isn’t actually Sam? Is there something in Sam being either a male or female name, and Sean using the name Kel like the female name Kelly?

Tanner confirms that Lydia Drake was made up by Martin, using the name Lydia from one of the characters in the play and the name Drake from the All My Sons script publisher. He also confirms that Tish was blackmailing Martin, so Martin made up Lydia Drake as a way to steal £80,000 from the fund to get more money to pay the builders and his legal fees and his gambling habit. Tanner confirms that the people masquerading as others are Sam pretending to be Issy on the tour of Mount More, Issy pretending to be Sam to email Michael about the affair, and he says they need to find the third person which happened much later on. He confirms that the people who aren’t who they say they are were Clive and Lydia, but there is another too. Tanner confirms that Lauren never existed and the emails from Lauren were sent by Issy, that there never was a Lauren working at the hospital or part of the theatre group. He refers to Lauren as Issy’s alter ego and says writing as Lauren replaced the Blue Book, and urges them to go back and re-read the emails between Issy and Lauren to see why. Oooh, I am totally shocked by this! I never suspected that Lauren wasn’t real, and I can see how emailing an imaginary friend must have made Issy seem unbalanced to the police and, taken with her obsessive behaviour to Sam, then how she could possibly fit the profile of a murderer. 

Tanner says that in the transcript of Issy’s confession she says she argued with Sam at Sam’s flat and Sam fell off the balcony, that she panicked and ran home but hoped Sam was ok and when Sam didn’t come to work the next day she got a lift to Sam’s flat from the Hallidays and ‘discovered’ the body. When she is asked what Sam said to her in the carpark after the rehearsal, she refuses to say. Tanner then sends Femi and Charlotte more correspondence from after Sam’s body was discovered. This includes an email from Andrea to Sam, Andrea not knowing that Sam is dead, saying she can’t stop thinking about it and ‘let me know what he said’ and that ‘he’ perhaps doesn’t know all the details himself, and mentioning that medical professionals were fooled, and warning Sam to tread carefully. Tish emails Martin saying that she’s in Africa and may not return, he asks about Poppy’s drugs and whether she’ll still continue with the chemo at Mount More, she asks Martin if Poppy receiving more chemo is what he wants and she says she won’t pass over the drugs to Martin unless he contacts her again. I’m intrigued by Andrea’s email to Sam and who the ‘he’ is, I am guessing it’s Martin as it was him Sam was directing her revelations and accusations to. And I’m puzzled with Martin asking Tish if Poppy will still continue with the chemo as this seems to imply he does believe she has a tumour and is getting treatment for it at the hospital. I’m also trying to bear in mind that Femi’s and Charlotte’s speculations, while they seem so convincing, may not be correct and might just be a way the author is sprinkling in more red herrings. 

Omg, we’re at the end and the solution… 

Tanner confirms that Helen has Munchausen’s By Proxy and made her baby son ill and accidentally killed him, that she lived in America at the time which is why there were no records of this in England but that Andrea discovered this by looking ‘over the pond’ and she wondered if Martin knew about this so prompted Sam to tell him. Tanner says that Helen is the final character who isn’t who she says she is, as she was born in America and charged with the manslaughter of her baby son but the jury believed her grief and decided she was innocent and she was freed and she moved to England under a new name. Tanner says that Martin did know about the Munchausen’s because Helen fabricated illnesses for Paige when she was small and this was when Martin learnt that giving Helen the focus of developing The Grange and being in plays helped to distract her from this. Tanner says that Helen began fabricating a tumour for Poppy, that there was no tumour but Martin saw the false tumour as an opportunity to raise money he desperately needed, that he got Tish to go along with it knowing she was desperate for money and they would split the appeal money between them, that Poppy never received any treatment which was why there were no records at the hospital and why Tish had to make Poppy ‘seem’ ill when Paige questioned the lack of side-effects from the chemo, that the only person to corroborate Poppy’s illness and say she’d seen her in treatment was Lauren, who didn’t exist and it was just Issy making up that ‘Lauren’ had seen Poppy. Tanner says that Tish then wanted more and more money so began to blackmail Martin for all of the appeal money, threatening to tell people about Helen killing her son, and that the ‘phials’ of drugs Martin was paying for were actually ‘files’ of records on Helen that Tish had. Tanner says that Sam had decided to come to this area of England in order to watch Tish, that Kel sent Tish the condolence card but Sam criticised him for doing this, that Kel begged Sam not to reveal what she’d learnt about the Haywards stealing the appeal money as he couldn’t go through losing their friends and their new life there, as had happened from her challenge of Dan in Africa, that Claudia’s husband had taken their children to Portugal after finding out about the affair and that Kel hurt his foot by breaking into Claudia’s house to get clothes for her. Tanner says that Sam listened to Andrea’s message when Kel dropped her off at the flat after the abandoned rehearsal so it was at that point that Sam learnt about Helen having Munchausen’s and killing her son but she didn’t know this when she accused Martin at the abandoned rehearsal of stealing the fundraising money. Sam then contacted James to tell him about Helen’s Munchausen’s and her killing her baby son, as she was concerned for Poppy’s safety, but James already knew this so then felt he had to kill Sam to stop her from telling anyone else, he arranged for Olivia to post the announcement of the birth of the babies at that time and as if it was from him in order to provide an alibi for him while he went to Sam’s flat to kill her. Tanner says that Issy was hanging around outside Sam’s flat trying to decide what to say to Sam to defend herself against emailing Claudia, and she saw James there outside after he’d killed Sam so he told her that Sam had died and that she’d accidently fallen from the balcony when they were arguing. James then tells Martin what he’s done. After Issy ‘discovers’ the body, she tells the police James’ story about the argument on the balcony and that Sam fell due to an accident but says she was there instead of James, in order to have James in debt to her and to guarantee his friendship. Martin later emails the theatre group saying that Poppy is now cured, and that the money from the fundraising appeal has now been given to other children’s charities. Phew, phew, phew, wow, what a solution! I am a bit gob-smacked by it all. And I presume Martin has actually stolen the remainder of the fundraising money, rather than giving it to other children’s charities.

Tanner shows them correspondence from Sam to her overseas volunteer friends, she posts as Sue B and refers to Kel as OH.  She says she is uncomfortable by someone at the theatre group who seems to be acting all the time. She then asks this group if they’ve heard of the experimental drugs, and for guidance on the terminology a rich person might use to donate to an appeal, and for how to find out details of the owner of an overseas bank account, and for guidance on finding a researcher to look into if a child was born 30 years before. She then says on 4th July that she has found what she is looking for and that she doesn’t belong here, and she then deletes the correspondence account. And was the person at the theatre group who seemed to be acting all the time, Helen or Issy? And this is probably nothing, but regarding the OH that Sam uses to refer to Kel, I know these are Femi’s initials, is there anything in this? 

There is then an email from Tish to a Sonja Ajanlekoko MBBS, saying she is now in Africa and has seen someone there a couple of times who looks like Sam, she asks if she had been misinformed of Sam’s death and if Sam is actually alive, and that if so then she needs to speak to Sam. Sonja replies saying that Sam passed away but that ‘whatever you do and wherever you are, please be certain of one thing, she watches you’. Eeek, is this Sonja actually Sam?!! I know that sounds crazy and probably is, but Sonja was listed in the List of Individuals given to Femi and Charlotte, which seemed strange as she hadn’t featured at all then, and she is listed there as the same age (34) as Sam, and her initials including her qualification spells SAM, and it just seems a bit odd why this email is included. 

It is then reported in the newspaper that Martin has been jailed for pretending his granddaughter was ill and stealing £200,000 from the charity appeal. It says he duped medical professionals into verifying the illness, and that Martin maintains he also lied to his family and that none of them were involved. Hmmm, so is Tish not to be named as complicit in this? And Martin has covered for James and Glen, who did know about the fraud.

It is then reported in the newspaper that a 37 year old man has been arrested on suspicion of killing Sam, and that Issy has been released. Oooh, so this must be James as his age was listed as 37 in the previous newspaper article detailing Martin’s arrest. But it does make me wonder why he is not named, the author isn’t trying to imply it was someone other than James who was arrested, is she? 

The final email is from Issy to Femi, saying she hopes James doesn’t go to prison, that he didn’t mean to do it and that he is needed at home with his young babies and with Martin in jail and Helen in hospital, that James didn’t know that Issy was going to confess, that she had told police it was an accident and when the police said it was murder she felt it was even more important for her to protect James. She says The Grange has been demolished and the Haywards’ house repossessed and will likely be made into apartments. She says she is thinking about a new career as a legal secretary, and that a court seems very like a stage, and she asks Femi if she could do legal secretary work-experience with her so she could therefore help Femi in her work and try to pay her back in this way for all she’s done in getting her released. Hmmm, so Helen is in hospital, are we then to presume that she is getting treatment for her Munchausen’s and that all this came out when James was arrested? Or did she go into hospital before James was arrested, perhaps as a result of James making her get help? And it sounds like Issy is still the same obsessive and delusional person as ever.

Wow, wow, wow, what a great read, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am feeling quite bereft now I’ve finished it! It did seem a bit of a slow start and I was wondering when the murder was going to be revealed, but once the action began it then seemed non-stop and I couldn’t put the book down. I am full of admiration for what a clever and involving book this is and how intricately it was plotted, and also how hard it must have been to write trying to keep it in chronological order with each story moving forward but having so many stories on the go at the same time whilst also dropping hints to lead the reader into making assumptions but not giving too much away, and all without having any input from the main character, Sam. It makes my head ache trying to consider how the author must have gone about this. It’s an amazing piece of work!

There is also some good humour in the book too, several bits made me chuckle.

I listened to an interview with Hallett where she pointed out that having the story told by emails, makes all the characters unreliable narrators as we only see their view of a situation, so I thought this was a really clever device.

I did wonder if it was a bit odd with Tanner not giving all the information to the law students, such as who had been wrongly jailed, and them trying to guess this when Tanner already knew the solution, and his prompts of three people masquerading as others etc could be seen as a bit annoyingly vague. But I guess it could be that he was perhaps testing if a jury could believe what he believed had happened and if the evidence backs this up, so therefore told the students nothing beforehand in order to treat them as the jury. And Tanner’s prompts are quite deliciously teasing. I also wondered if some readers could be frustrated with some of the emails only being given at the end of the book, which could feel like we’re being prompted to guess but without having all the facts. But I think this could be because the later emails weren’t available to the jury at the first trial and had only been found since Issy had been sentenced so I guess Tanner is perhaps demonstrating that these later emails led him to believe Issy wasn’t guilty and he wanted his students to follow the trail in the same order he did. Plus it definitely works as a device to keep the reader guessing and re-guessing and re-guessing when more information is revealed.

I’ve been reading other readers’ reviews of the book and I liked the suggestion from one reviewer that the title The Appeal meant both the fundraising appeal and the appeal to get Issy released, I hadn’t realised that before. A couple of reviewers also said the book reminded them of an updated Wilkie Collins book or Bram Stoker’s Dracula with using emails rather the entries in journals from those books, and I can appreciate this and wonder if it is also why I liked this book so much as I love those epistolary novels. 

Inevitably I have questions and things I need to try and clarify in my mind, so I’ll list these below. And even though this list is quite huge, that is more a sign of how deeply I’ve been invested in the book rather than any criticism.

So if I gathered everything correctly, the answers to Tanner’s questions are:
Who killed Sam? – James.
Who were the three people Sam told things to before her death, and what did she tell them? – she told Issy that she knew Issy had emailed Claudia’s husband about the affair and had made it look like this came from Sam, she told Kel that she was returning to Africa, and she told James about Helen’s Munchausen’s and that Helen had killed her son.
Who knew it was going to happen? – Olivia, as she provided an alibi for James.
Who knew about it before her body was discovered? – Issy, as she was outside the flat when James exited so he had to tell her. And Martin, as James told him after he’d committed the murder.
Who is erroneously imprisoned and why? – Issy, in order to cover for James.
Who are the three people who aren’t who they say they are? – Clive, and Lydia, and Helen as she changes her name when she comes to England after killing her son.
Who are the three people who masquerade as others? – Sam masquerades as Issy for the hospital tour, Issy masquerades as Sam to email Claudia’s husband, and Olivia masquerades as James in order to provide him with an alibi.
Who is the person who doesn’t exist at all? – Lauren.

I am thinking it’s difficult to explain why some people’s emails weren’t included, particularly Sam’s emails but also Kel’s and even Helen’s. Obviously it would have potentially given the plot away to the reader to include these but I feel some kind of excuse or explanation for these not being included was needed, it’s surely very unlikely that emails from the murder victim and her spouse weren’t used at trial, and it can’t have been that the jury were only shown the emails which led to proof of Issy’s guilt as obviously then Sam’s emails would have been of huge significance due to Issy’s anger at being rejected by Sam. Sam and Kel were both obviously emailing people, as we see others’ replies to their emails, and Issy sent an email from Sam’s email address to Michael when she was at their flat. If their emails had been deleted, then it would only be James as the murderer who could have had an interest in doing this, and would he have had the chance and the knowledge to do this? But even if he did, then I can’t imagine that their emails could be deleted so completely that the police couldn’t access them. There are also no emails from Helen, but Helen’s lack of confidence in using technology is mentioned several times so this is obviously a reason why she has no emails included because presumably she doesn’t send any. Hmmm, as I say, I can understand from the point of view of not spoiling things for the reader, but from a believable point of view it seems a bit questionable not to have an explanation why these people’s emails aren’t included.

I was bothered a bit by Lauren not being real and what this means about Issy. Lauren is Issy’s way of consoling herself and boosting her own confidence, almost like writing in a diary, but it sounds dangerously like a split-personality thing with her denying to herself that she made the mistake at the hospital and telling herself that Lauren did it but she kind-heartedly covered for her. Surely she must be quite unwell to have created this whole fiction, is no-one concerned about this and offering help to her? She seems to just be released from jail to continue on her own as before, does she have no family who can ensure she gets this help? And I can see that Issy creating this fiction that the imaginary Lauren owed her for her generosity in accepting the blame, then gives Issy the idea that James would similarly owe her and be forever grateful to her if she accepted the blame of murder for him, but it all just seems to indicate she desperately needs some kind of help. And her being jailed for a murder she hasn’t committed does seem quite a huge sacrifice for her to make, even if she is an unwell person, and this perceived gain for her of James’ gratefulness can’t be fulfilled while she’s in jail as presumably James couldn’t even visit her in jail that much to demonstrate his gratefulness, so why would she keep the lie and the sacrifice going? And wasn’t it a huge risk to James that Issy could have got fed up with her lie and sacrifice, and she then reveals that he actually did the murder?

I was also bothered by this Munchausen’s and the family’s way of dealing with this. So is it that Paige had Munchausen’s too, due to Helen fabricating illnesses on her when she was a child? And is it that both Helen and Paige knew that Poppy didn’t actually have a brain tumour, but they were pretending she did in order to satisfy their own illness, rather than pretending she did in order to support Martin stealing the fundraising money? And is it that James and Glen both knew of Helen’s and Paige’s Munchausen’s? I’m thinking Glen must have known about the Munchausen’s, as otherwise he wouldn’t have supported Martin stealing from the fundraising money if he thought this money was needed to save his child, and James also knew that Helen had killed her baby son but Glen didn’t know this fact. So I am struggling to understand how Glen and Martin could risk Poppy being around Helen and Paige when they might hurt her, and also how James was intending to keep his baby twins safe around them in the future. 

I’m also confused about Poppy not apparently going to the hospital for treatment and there being no hospital records. Obviously we know there wasn’t actually a brain tumour, but Paige believed Poppy was getting treatment for this (even though she had presumably fabricated Poppy’s brain tumour due to her own illness, but she wouldn’t have thought other people had realised this) so she must have taken her to the hospital for this treatment and she questioned Tish about why Poppy wasn’t losing her hair after the treatment. And didn’t Arnie give the African healing doll to Poppy at the hospital, witnessed by Sam? So it sounds to me like Poppy actually did go to hospital for some kind of treatment. So was she given pretend chemo at the hospital? But it then seems a stretch of the imagination that no other nurses or doctors noticed this. Or was it that the treatment was happening at Tish’s private practice or at Paige’s own home? But then how did Arnie give Poppy the healing doll, if not at the hospital? In one of Martin’s final emails to Tish he asks about Poppy’s chemo continuing, I am guessing he needed to ensure that the treatment continued in order to satisfy Helen’s and Paige’s illness even if he couldn’t steal any more money from the fundraising, but it does seem to imply again that there was definitely some kind of treatment taking place and I just wonder how this was done and where it took place.

And there does seem to be a couple of huge chances/coincidences in all of this. One being that if Sam hadn’t followed Tish to this area of England and to this hospital in order to watch her, then she wouldn’t have discovered that Tish was lying about the chemo for Poppy and the fundraising being for other purposes rather than the treatment. So would this have been discovered otherwise, was there anyone else suspicious of Tish or was it just Sam (who was only there in the area by chance really)? And the other chance/coincidence being Helen mentioning to the cast about her baby son having died, as this then led to Sam checking up about Helen’s baby son in order to find out if a similar appeal fund was done by Helen at that time and if she stole from that fund and was repeating the same thing again with Poppy’s fund, which led to Sam’s discovery of Helen’s Munchausen’s and that Helen actually killed her baby son, which led to Sam being killed and Issy jailed etc. So if Helen hadn’t mentioned her baby son to the cast in the first place then none of the rest would have happened, would it? Both things are hugely important to the story but both just seem to be huge chances/coincidences. But I guess that’s the poetic licence of fictional literature.

Was there an explanation of why James’ social media announcement about the twins being born was from James Haywood and not James Hayward? We know Olivia wrote this message for James from his phone in order to provide him with an alibi when he was killing Sam, but she wouldn’t spell their surname incorrectly, and surely she’d be using his social media account on his phone anyway to post the announcement so wouldn’t this be in his correct name?

And I’m struggling a bit to believe that Olivia would have agreed with James deciding to kill Sam and to provide an alibi for him whilst he did it, as she had just given birth to twins after years and years of desperately hoping for children, so would she support James risking their new family life by killing someone? Before that point he was surely just guilty of having knowledge of his father stealing money from the appeal fund, but this murder was taking things to a very dramatic level and involving James in a huge risk of being discovered and punished accordingly, so would she have gone along with it so willingly?

And it doesn’t matter much but I am wondering why Martin, when pretending to be Lydia Drake, said ‘she’ was a friend of Emma’s, as this is what made Sarah-Jane suspicious of Lydia in the first place, so that was surely a foolish idea on his part. 

And I’m not sure if it seems a bit over-complicated with Issy emailing Claudia’s husband about the affair from Sam’s email address so it seems like it came from Sam. I guess Issy may have thought that he would be more likely to believe it if the information came from the other spouse being cheated on, but it just seemed like Issy was making it harder than it seemed to be. Or was all this in order to conveniently provide a later reason for why Sam was so angry at Issy and why the jury then suspected Issy killed Sam due to the hurtful words Sam had said to her?

And I can’t see the significance of the Jackie Marsh character who is travelling, apart from demonstrating that when she desperately asked for her donation back that Martin ignored her even though she was in peril, as he was wanting to keep every penny of the fund for himself.

And again, this doesn’t really matter but I am wondering quite what Kel would have recommended Sam do with the information that Martin and Tish were stealing from the appeal fund. He was telling her not to share her accusations at the rehearsal because he couldn’t face their lives being uprooted again and being shunned by people he had viewed as friends, but he can’t have felt that it was ok for them to get away with their fraud and theft. Perhaps he felt like the rehearsal and infront of all the cast wasn’t the place to share what she knew, and also that she wasn’t doing it in the best manner as she was angry and hurt at that time. Maybe he would have later advised her to quietly go the police and follow it through the proper channels.

I was puzzling over what Claudia meant when she emailed Kel from the hotel saying no-one seems to know anything and she can’t get through to him, but I am presuming she was talking about her husband’s disappearance with the children.

And I’m still puzzling about when Sam goes to Martin’s home, quite early on in the book, to speak to him about her suspicions of Tish and he tells James afterwards that he was hurriedly shutting all the doors, what was it he was trying to hide by closing the doors? Was it Poppy looking well, rather than ill, after the treatment? Or was it further building work that might prompt Sam to wonder where the money for this had come from? Or something else?

And it puzzled me why James suggested that Martin ask Tish for proof of the experimental drug order and that he give her no more money until she provides this proof (after Sam tells Martin she thinks Tish isn’t spending the money on experimental drugs), as we know now that James was fully aware that there were no experimental drugs and the money wasn’t being spent on this. Was this just covering their tracks in case anyone looked at their emails? I guess Martin does do this throughout with his emails, and James does it when he asks Issy by email if she has seen Sam after he knows she is dead as he killed her, so perhaps this email exchange about asking Tish for proof was in order to cover their tracks. 

And it puzzled me why Issy had ‘Lauren’ say she’d seen Poppy having treatment. Obviously we now know that Lauren was invented, but this seems a strange thing for Issy to include in her fabricated emails with an imaginary friend. But I wonder if Issy herself suspected something seemed odd with Poppy’s treatment so tried to convince herself she was wrong by having Lauren ‘tell’ her about seeing Poppy having treatment. And I wonder if Issy ever tried to visit Poppy at hospital, as surely she would be likely to do this with working there and with her desperation to be involved and be important and knowledgeable. And I also wondered what Issy meant with her comment about Helen and Paige being so similar, could it be that Issy suspected Helen had Munchausen’s and that Paige also had the same condition? 

I can’t help wondering what Martin’s reaction was to James’ news that he’d killed Sam. I am presuming Martin didn’t know beforehand that James was going to do this and I am presuming that he hadn’t told James to do it, so I’m imagining it might have come as quite a shock to Martin to realise how things had so dramatically escalated and how much trouble they could now be in. I also wonder how he justified to himself Issy being jailed for this.

I see there’s a follow-up book, The Christmas Appeal, set with the same theatre group and the same law students. Eeek, I am already excited to read that, but I do wonder if we can successfully go there again with the same characters. Or could it be that (and this is me still holding onto puzzles and being reluctant to stop pondering!) this is a way to bring in Femi as the ‘OH’ mentioned in Sam’s correspondence with her volunteering friends, and to reveal that Sam isn’t actually dead…?!! 

I also see Hallett has written another book called The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, I must read that too. And I could quite happily re-read The Twyford Code as well, which was another wonderfully clever book. I am so excited there is such a wonderful writer out there! And this book reminded me of a few of my favourite books, so I’m tempted to re-read them also, firstly Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone with the email format of storytelling being like their journal/letter format, and I was also reminded of a couple of Daphne Du Maurier’s books too, Rebecca, for how we don’t hear from the main character, and My Cousin Rachel, for how our view about a lead character can be so cleverly altered throughout the book.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett available on Amazon
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