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The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett - Review

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I got this book for Christmas from my brother- and sister-in-law, they're both big readers and I think Libby had read this and chose it for me off my wishlist. You might remember that I've read and enjoyed both of Hallett's other books so I was pleased to get this and picked it up last week. However, I didn't think it was as good as her other books and I can't really explain why. I was pleased to finish it!

So it's not told in prose, like Hallett's other books, which is a technique that I like and I'm glad that current writers are pushing the boundaries a bit there as to how to write a novel and maybe even the boundaries of what constitutes a novel. This one is told in phone recordings done by a man called Steve Smith. 

Steve hasn't been out of prison for long, having served an eleven year stretch for a huge robbery. He was told after that that he had a grown up son, born when he was only about seventeen years old. He was thrilled to be a dad and met up with his son a couple of times, but his son then said he needed space. He gave his dad an old iPhone 4, and Steve is using that to record his life story on, for his son. The transcripts have been sent to his son, which we learn at the beginning of the novel, because they are now involved in a missing persons case. There are errors in the transcriptions which as a reader you have to just gloss over, and which become pertinent later. 

He starts off by telling his son about when he was about fourteen and was in a Remedial English class taught by Miss Isles (which the transcription software usually understands as the word 'missiles'). There were only five of them in the class - Steve, Donna, Shell, Paul, and Nathan. One day Steve finds a copy of a book called Six Go to Goldtop Hill by an author called Edith Twyford, and he takes it to the class. Miss Isles mentions how Edith Twyford is now not an author in fashion (you can read this as the criticisms levelled against Enid Blyton) and starts to read the book to the class. She then tells them about a code called The Twyford Code - the idea that the author left clues in her books that led to some treasure or something similar. She takes them on a trip to Twyford's cottage in Sussex I think, and then she mysteriously disappears. Steve has never been able to work out what happened to her, and now he's determined to. First of all he needs to get back in touch with all his old mates, and he needs some help from some other people too. 

Interspersed with this story is the story of Steve's life - an abusive dad, being brought up by his brother Colin, and getting involved with the Harrison gang, which is how he ended up in a life of crime, and how he ended up in prison. It's hard to not feel sorry for Steve as he seems to have had a rough life, but he also seems to have become obsessed with the Twyford Code. 

But of course, there's a twist in the story. Like with Hallett's previous books, I did pick up on a few of the red herrings but not on some of the others. I am not sure that the ending really worked for me entirely. It did make sense, but I'm not sure it paid off with the rest of the book. Really I'm giving this book 3.5 out of five, I think it's the weakest of Hallett's books... but I will probably read her next, anyway!

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