Long-buried truth meets long-awaited fiction with deadly consequences in The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, the third fiendishly complex novel by Janice Hallett. Having skewered the venerable pastimes of amateur dramatics and children’s literature in her previous books, this time round Hallett focuses her perceptive storytelling on the phenomenon of true crime, shining a light on the particularly unsavoury aspects of the hugely popular genre.
Some 18 years ago, just after the portent-heavy dawning of the new millennium, a particularly gory and shocking crime gripped the British public’s attention: the so-called Alperton Angels murder case. The Angels, led by the disturbingly charismatic Gabriel Angelis, were a cult in North West London who believed themselves to be angels in human form. They claimed to have been sent to Earth to kill the antichrist, who they identified as a baby belonging to two vulnerable 17-year-olds, Holly and Jonah.
After ensnaring the teenagers and convincing them that the baby was destined to doom humanity, they planned to kill the infant at the appointed time – 10 December 2003 – when five planets were due to align in a rare astral occurrence. However, despite the cult’s best laid plans, the ritual sacrifice did not go ahead as arranged, as Holly had second thoughts about the whole thing, took the baby to safety and called the police.
When the officers who responded to her call arrived at the warehouse the cult members were using as their base, they faced the grisly sight of a mass suicide. The adult cultists had killed themselves after their macabre scheme was thwarted, with only Jonah being found alive, disorientated and covered in blood. Gabriel Angelis was not among the dead though, having seemingly escaped the slaughter after inexplicably murdering a young waiter in a nearby building.
Now, in the doldrums of the London publishing scene of 2021, true crime author Amanda Bailey is looking for something a little different from the typical ‘dead blonde, media frenzy, police fumblings, lucky psychopath’ material on which to base her latest book. Her agent suggests that she tackle the Alperton Angels case because, given that the relevant events took place 18 years previously, the baby will now be an adult who can be interviewed about their perspective.
Bailey throws herself into the investigation, aiming to use her contacts in the social work and law enforcement fields to track down the baby as well as the elusive Holly and Jonah, all of whom seem to have disappeared into the ether following that fateful night back in 2003. Unfortunately for Bailey, she’s not the only one hoping to secure a scoop. Oliver Menzies, a former nemesis from her days as a journalist, is also writing a book about the Alperton Angels, and he’s pursing the exact same angle as her.
Facing dead ends and obfuscation at every turn in their attempts to investigate the cult and the related deaths, Bailey and Menzies reluctantly agree to combine their resources in an attempt to track down the key players and determine what really happened. It’s clear that there’s more to the case than meets the eye, but as they find themselves being dragged deeper and deeper into a world of conspiracies, lies and deceptions, they risk being consumed by the quest for the truth. As Bailey’s assistant, Ellie Cooper, notes during one exchange of messages:
“There’s something about this case. It burrows insidiously into your mind, then sets about changing it.”
Similar to her storytelling approach in The Appeal and The Twyford Code, Hallett provides a modern twist on the epistolary novel in The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, which is written in the form of emails, WhatsApp messages, and interview/podcast transcripts, coupled with newspaper clippings, extracts from books and a screenplay, and other materials. In fact, the novel is actually comprised of the bundle of materials that Amanda Bailey put together when researching her book and subsequently locked in a safe deposit box.
This approach firmly situates the reader in the role of detective, having to piece together the various clues and snippets of information contained within the myriad source materials in order to puzzle out exactly what happened with the Alperton Angels and why. It’s a tantalising tactic that renders the book a quick and compelling read. It also allows Hallett to make the most out the characters’ potential to be unreliable narrators who are only willing to cooperate and share information to the extent that it furthers their own aims.
Bailey is the central character and focal point of the various communications that comprise the story, and she’s an intriguing character from the outset. As an award-winning true crime author, it’s no surprise that she’s interested in writing about the Alperton Angels case, but she also seems to have motivation beyond producing another bestseller. In fact, all those who contribute to the story appear to be jealously guarding at least some aspect of their involvement in events, whether in the past or the present.
Due to the characters’ obscured intentions and unclear goals, even when they are communicating in apparently straightforward and helpful ways, there are numerous strands of mysteries for Bailey and Menzies to follow as they attempt to track down the missing baby and get to the heart of the Angels conspiracy. They are forced to unpick the facts from the fiction in the same way that readers must as they work through all the materials concerning the case.
All this renders The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels a deviously twisting and twisted puzzle layered with a multitude of deceptions, intrigues and red herrings. It combines the best aspects of the thriller and the whodunnit to present a challenging conundrum for readers to unravel.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars