I might have to go lower my rating for The Appeal based on how much more I liked this one. The premise is once again based on a unique format; this time instead of being told through emails, we’ve got audio recordings made on an old iPhone 4 by a man just out of an eleven year prison stint. The difference between her first book and this one, aside from being more elaborate, is that here we have characters to emotionally connect to. In The Appeal, the format and the puzzle were interesting and more than enough to keep me reading, but the experience felt emotionally empty. Here, the characters are flawed but lovable. That, combined with the intricate puzzle of the plot, and I tore through this as a result.
Our main character, in his early fifties, was a fourteen year kid in 1983 with a terrible home life and an undiagnosed learning disorder (dyslexia), but his favorite teacher was his R.E. teacher (Remedial English). There were five kids in that class, and they all adored Miss Iles. One day, not long after Steven found an old book by disgraced author Edith Twyford (based on Enid Blyton) on an empty bus and brought it in to class, Miss Iles took the class on an unauthorized field trip, and then disappeared. Years later, Steve and his classmates are haunted by that disappearance, and now Steven has decided to find out what happened to Miss Iles (and possibly decode the alleged Twyford Code, a series of codes supposedly hidden inside Twyford’s books) in the process.
The story is told in a series of recovered voice recordings, transcribed by a piece of software that often misinterprets words (i.e. transcribing “mustard” instead of “must have”) that has been sent to a Professor with “experience” in the field of the case an Inspector is investigating. This added a nice touch, and made it more of an experience to try to spot the clues and piece things together.
I was a bit worried the ending would be underwhelming, but it more than delivered, and is the reason for the .5 star bump up I gave it. I would love to re-read this and spot all the ways she was building up to that ending. Highly recommend this one to mystery readers for sure!