Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. He took it to his remedial English teacher, Miss Isles, who became convinced it was the key to solving a puzzle.

That a message in secret code ran through all Edith Twyford’s novels. Then Miss Isles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven’s memory won’t allow him to remember what happened.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Isles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today? Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Isles, Steven revisits the people and places of his childhood.

But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code has great power, and he isn’t the only one trying to solve it… 

My Review

First of all I’d like to say that this book is a bit marmite – many people will either love it or hate it. I read it in staves with my online bookclub The Pigeonhole and a few people dropped out because of the writing style. It was exhausting to read because 8/10ths of the staves are written in transcripts from audio files recorded on an old iPhone 4. The software used to transcribe the files often picks things up wrongly – eg Miss Isles is transcribed as missiles, Wrexham as wrecks ’em, UCL as you see L, young ‘uns as young guns etc. I did get quite confused initially. But you get used to it and eventually it became second nature.

It all started with a green book found on a bus by fourteen-year-old Steve Smith (who later became known as ex-con Little Smithy). That innocent looking book was one of a series written by banned children’s author Edith Twyford (no prizes for guessing who she’s based on) and so the mystery of the code begins.

The story meanders like a forest stream, twisting and turning and throwing us, the reader, into confusion. What is the meaning of the ‘fish’ symbol? Who are the two men that keep cropping up? Who is Maxine and what happened to Miss Isles, the teacher to whom Steve gave the book? You can guess all you like, but I’ll bet you got most of it wrong. I can’t say much more because the twist is huge and any hint would give it away.

While it was all a bit clever for me and I’m not really into code-breaking (they’d never have employed me at Bletchley Park or GCHQ). I really enjoyed The Twyford Code. It’s definitely a perfect book for an online book club, because the experience was massively enhanced by sharing opinions with my online reading friends. We were chucking theories around like there’s no tomorrow, almost all of them way out.

I think it was on a review somewhere that someone compared it to Richard Osman, but even with his enormous brain I doubt he would have cracked The Twyford Code.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office, and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and co-wrote the feature film Retreat. The Appeal was her first novel and The Twyford Code is her follow-up.

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