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Janice Hallett

The Mysterious Case of The Alperton Angels

Crime thrillers take many forms but at first sight, Janice Hallett’s latest novel reads like a criminal brief hastily put to-gether for counsel by an idle solicitor. It comprises a vast quantity of raw material - transcripts of interviews, printouts of e-mail and text message exchanges, excerpts from books and a film script, as well as newspaper cuttings - but almost no attempt at summary or synthesis. It’s left to counsel - or in this case, the reader - to make sense of this mass of doc-umentation.

It quickly becomes clear, however, that this apparently randomly assembled mass of primary material in fact conceals an artfulness and a high degree of narrative skill on the part of the author. The result is an absorbing and entertaining novel.

The eponymous Alperton Angels were a small cult based in north-west London. In December 2003, the bodies of four men thought to have belonged to the cult were found in a derelict warehouse in Alperton. Whether it was mass murder or mass suicide was not clear. A fifth body found in an empty flat nearby the previous day was thought to be linked to the deaths in the warehouse.

This novel tells the story of the investigation in 2021 into the Alperton deaths by Amanda Bailey, a journalist turned true-crime writer researching a new book about the case. It is in fact two stories wrapped into each other: an account of Bailey’s investigation of the Alperton cult and its self-immolation and, at one removed, the gradual revelation of what had in fact happened in 2003. In pursuing the story, Bailey leaves no stone unturned and shows herself to be conversant with a wide range of investigative techniques, some less scrupulous than others, including the playing of unsuspecting witnesses, the assumption of false identities, the covert recording of conversations, and so on.

The novel’s central relationship - and it’s a complex one - is between Bailey and her fellow journalist-turned-crime-writer, Oliver Menzies. Contrasting characters from very different backgrounds, they have history, as the saying goes, but are now both competitors and collaborators, contracted to rival publishers to produce books about the Alperton cult. Various other figures from the publishing world flit in and out of the novel: Amanda’s agent, several other true-crime writers - one of whom comes badly unstuck - a pair of colluding publishers, a journalist or two, and a screenwriter. The novel has much to say about the nature of belief, and emotional and psychological control in cults.

As Bailey’s investigation progresses, with many a twist and turn along the way, the story’s violent past begins to in-trude into its present as people connected with the case die in unusual circumstances. Some of the twists in the story are more credible than others; there is one touching on the Royal Family which would strain the credulity of even the most fevered, copy-hungry tabloid hack. Bailey’s dogged investigation into the affair reaches an unexpected conclusion at odds with all the original suppositions about the Alperton case but the novel’s climax is sudden and shocking.

Richard Hopton

Viper Books

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