Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January from Viper Books
Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and 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. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.
You have to wonder who put Janice Hallett’s brain together. Reading one of her novels is like going down the rabbit hole and finding a warren of tunnels that cross and divert and lead you round in circles until you’re not sure which way is up.
What you will know, quite quickly though, is that our protagonist, Amanda Bailey, is absolutely ruthless. Her training as a journalist has helped her to understand what to say in order to get what she wants and she will say anything she has to in order to get the information she needs.
The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels is comprised of a series of emails, recordings and telephone calls transcribed by Amanda’s assistant, Ellie Cooper, alongside WhatsApp messages and sometimes even snail mail.
Amanda has been commissioned to write a true crime book about an old case – that of The Alperton Angels, a group of people widely believed to be part of a cult, who died, allegedly committing suicide, while plotting to kill a baby they knew to to be the Antichrist. The baby survived as did the alleged cult leader, known as Gabriel, who is now serving a prison sentence.
Janice Hallet’s book is about the research that Amanda Bailey undertakes to find the baby who is now 18, and in the process to understand what happened to all those involved in the case. To make matters morecomplex, Oliver Menzies, who trained in journalism with Amanda, is also writing a book that deals with this case. The two negotiate through their agents to ensure that they collaborate on the information, but take decidedly separate angles to the case so as not to overlap.
Janice Hallett’s superpower is to give you lots of information that should let you understand what’s going on, but which also often diverts you down another tunnel in the warren until you’ve followed your tracks so often you realise that you’ve turned a perfect circle and have in fact been chasing your own tail.
Sometimes you are blinded by too much information, occasionally Hallett slips in a critical clue but you really do have to be eagle eyed to spot it in the morass of information she offers.
She’s brilliantly funny though on some of the people who become obsessed with true crime and religiously follow every cough and spit of new information. (Disclaimer: I fell down my own rabbit hole with the BBC’s Death in Ice Valley)
Sometimes as a reader you lift your head to wonder quite how so many people can be sucked in, but we understand the charisma exuded by cult leaders and how they instinctively know who is vulnerable and open to suggestion – especially those who feel the need to belong.
Verdict: The Alperton Angels is a really fiendish puzzle which gives the reader a great deal of tension alongside some brilliant characters. There’s food for thought about the kind of judgements we make on a daily basis and some clues to understand where our moral compass lies. It is a rip-roaring read and offers both some strong commentary on the male/female dynamic alongside a wry and challenging look at the true crime genre.
Janice Hallett studied English at UCL, and spent several years as a magazine editor, winning two awards for journalism. After gaining an MA in Screenwriting at Royal Holloway, she co-wrote the feature film Retreat. Her first book, The Appeal is inspired by her lifelong interest in amateur dramatics. Her second novel, The Twyford Code, was published by Viper in 2022. When not indulging her passion for global adventure travel, she is based in West London.