cover image The Christmas Appeal

The Christmas Appeal

Janice Hallett. Atria, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-6680-3588-7

The Fairway Players of England’s Lower Lockwood region see their plans for a fund-raising Christmas production of Jack and the Beanstalk complicated by an unexpected death in Hallett’s lively follow-up to 2022’s The Appeal. The players’ altruistic community project, set to raise funds for a new church roof, is riven by petty jealousies, power plays, hidden agendas, and attempts to sabotage the production, all of which long-suffering director Sarah-Jane MacDonald must contend with, alongside more quotidian concerns, like selling tickets. Then the production’s beanstalk splits on the night of the performance and a dead body dressed in a Santa costume spills out. As in the previous entry in the series, fledgling lawyers Femi Hassan and Charlotte Holroyd are assigned to review documents including text messages, emails, and police reports (which make up the bulk of the text) to determine whether foul play was involved, and who might be to blame. The epistolary structure ostensibly provides readers an opportunity to piece the mystery together beside Hassan and Holroyd, though they may be disappointed by a lack of fair-play clues. Still, cozy mystery devotees are likely to enjoy the rollicking ride and look forward to the Players’ next production. Agent: Markus Hoffman, Regal Hoffman & Assoc. (Oct.)