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Meet our Book Doctor... Janice Hallett, author of The Appeal

In our Book Doctor feature, we welcome a guest to prescribe just the right read for any mood or occasion.

Janice Hallett, whose books include The Appeal and The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, joins us to prescribe some fantastic books.

Being a fan of Agatha Christie and other similar authors, my mother has gravitated naturally towards the British Library Crime Classics. The problem is that she reads them as fast as they are published. Can you recommend any other early twentieth century crime or thriller novels to keep her guessing? – Kate

I certainly can, Kate! The Golden Age of British crime fiction inspired so many writers around the world there is a treasure-trove of amazing international fiction to be discovered in this genre. For instance, Seishi Yokomizo was a Japanese crime writer working from the mid-1930s to the late-1950s. His Honjin Murders series, featuring amateur sleuth Kosuke Kindaichi, runs to more than 70 books and five are now available in English (translated by Louise Heal Kawai). Start with The Honjin Murders, then The Inugami Curse, then The Village of Eight Graves, then Death On Gokumon Island and finally, The Devil's Flute Murders.

In a similar vein, The Tattoo Murder by Akimitsu Takagi (translated by Deborah Boehm) is another great Japanese locked-room murder mystery. All will keep Mum going while she waits for the next British Library Crime Classic.

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

I love reading thrillers and murder mysteries, but sometimes I want a laugh-out-loud book. Please could you recommend some to me? Thank you. – Lisa, age 41

It's not often you come across a thriller that succeeds in raising laughs as well as building dramatic tension, but by that please don't assume us crime authors are a humourless bunch. The disconnect is because laughter and tension are, for the most part, mutually exclusive – they cancel each other out. It takes a very skilful hand to combine the two, but gems are out there.

In Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard, a struggling actor finds herself trapped on a film set in the depths of a forest, where she’s all alone and yet, somehow, isn't. It's Fleabag-hilarious and Blair Witch-scary in thrilling waves of laughs and screams. Meanwhile, in The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell, a society-girl murder is investigated by a down-to-earth detective. Its biting satire on the ruling classes reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, but the thriller aspect works too, making this a great example of wit and menace in perfect harmony.

Of course, when it comes to crime novels that use humour to enhance the dramatic narrative, modesty prevents me mentioning my own books: The Appeal, The Twyford Code and The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels.

Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard

I often feel overwhelmed by the number of books I want to read, and I just don't know where to start! Do you have any advice to reduce the overwhelming feeling and how to pick your next book?! – Libby, age 23

There are hundreds of amazing books out there, and only so many hours in the day. The trouble is, that sense of being overwhelmed can prevent you starting a new book entirely and before you know it, you’re in a reading slump. I know the feeling, Libby, and can tell you how I get over it. After all, reading is a positive, productive and life-enhancing activity – it shouldn’t be taxing in any way. The solution is all about making the numbers manageable. Change that landscape of infinite choice to a smaller, doable chunk of reading you can focus on, look forward to and enjoy. So, I'll buy four or five books at a time as my to-read batch. If I can't decide in which order to read, I'll opt for alphabetical by either title or author. Once I've read those, I’ll get another small batch and approach them in the same way. It's a very effective mind game that works for other overwhelming situations too.

Book Doctor

I'd love to find a book where each chapter switches from one character to the other (and back again). Any suggestions on how to find one? Ideally a thriller/mystery book, please. – Crystal

The dual-perspective, alternating narrative is a killer! It means you're connected to both sides of a story, and works particularly well for mysteries and thrillers because you never know which, if any, of the characters is 'the baddie'.

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl springs to mind, but I'm almost certain you've read that, Crystal. Happily, there are several new and forthcoming books in this format. Thicker Than Water by Megan Collins follows two sisters-in-law as they fight to clear their husband/brother's name when, in a coma after a car crash, he's accused of killing his boss. They start as best friends, but their escalating family situation drives a wedge between them. Meanwhile, in The Dive by Sara Ochs, the dual narrative switches between an Instagram influencer and a local dive instructor who find themselves on the same idyllic holiday island just as it’s plagued by mysterious deaths. A forthcoming historical murder mystery told from two contrasting points of view to brilliant effect is The Maiden by Kate Foster. Here, the opposing characters are an upper-class lady accused of murdering her uncle, and the prostitute he was wont to visit. It's vivid, inventive, wonderfully written and is already a strong contender for my book of the year.

Thicker than Water by Megan Collins

I've read a few great 'folk horror' books this year: Pine, Starve Acre and Wakenhyrst. I've really loved the atmosphere these stories created and want to deep dive into the genre. Can you recommend any other books with the same eerie feeling that are perfect reading material for a cold winter's night? – Yvonne

Agreed, Yvonne, nothing complements the cold like a roaring fire and a dose of eerie folk horror. Have you read Dead Water by C.A. Fletcher? It's set on a remote Scottish Island where a mysterious illness ravages the small community and precedes a slow descent into horror. This book takes its time to build a really chilling atmosphere before plunging you into the action. For Gothic chills with a dash of Greek mythology,

Laura Purcell's The Whispering Muse will transport you to the world of Victorian Theatre with its many ghosts and superstitions. Has an ambitious actor really made a deadly supernatural pact? Meanwhile for sweeping landscapes and a story steeped in Catholic superstition, The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley shadows a family from a deeply religious community on their annual, desperate visit to a remote shrine.

If tales of witchcraft and its folk legacy are your thing, The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews is a standout, while Fyneshade by Kate Griffin is a witchy hit.

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett

About The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett

Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police?

Everyone knows the story of the Alperton Angels: the cult-like group who were convinced one of their member's babies was the anti-Christ, and they had a divine mission to kill it - until the baby's mother, Holly, came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than go to prison, and Holly – and the baby – disappeared into the care system.

Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed - if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby's trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong, and the truth is something much darker and stranger than they'd ever imagined.

This story is far from over – and it won't have a happy ending.

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