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Author Picks: 6 Mysteries with Endings I Didn’t See Coming

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Janice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist, and government communications writer. She lives in London, is the author of The Appeal and The Twyford Code, and she is happy to have the wool pulled firmly over her eyes by a good book.

I love being totally foxed by a story—that feeling when you know something is awry, but you’re not sure what. Then the penny drops . . . and it’s something entirely different from what you expected.

This love of a good twist filters down into my own novels. My latest, The Twyford Code, is a “cracking” adventure tale, told through automatic transcriptions of voice files made by the irrepressible Steven “Smithy” Smith. Fresh from prison, Smithy investigates a half-forgotten trauma from his youth. His teacher, the charismatic Miss Iles, disappeared on a school trip, and this sent Smithy reeling into a life of crime that eventually landed him behind bars for eleven years. Before she vanished, Miss Iles was convinced a much-maligned children’s author, Edith Twyford, hid coded messages in her books. What was the Twyford Code, and is it still in use today?

Whether there are any unexpected turns in Steve’s story, I can’t possibly say; but I’ve picked six stories below that boast the most fiendish of twists that totally fooled me until the very last chapter—and in some cases the final page.

The Nigerwife
by Vanessa Walters

Feel the heat with this murder mystery set in Nigerian high society, coming out this summer. The “Nigerwives” exist in a gilded cage, a glamorous yet stifling world from which escape is a double-edged sword. Claudine’s niece was one of them, until she disappeared under ominous circumstances. We follow the straight-talking Londoner’s quest to dig beneath the glittering facade of lies in this fresh, pacy, edge-of-your-seat thriller.

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The Nigerwife
Vanessa Walters

This twisty and electrifying debut novel about a young woman who goes missing in Lagos, Nigeria, and her estranged auntie who will stop at nothing to find the truth is perfect for fans of My Sister, the Serial Killer and The Last Thing He Told Me.

Nicole Oruwari has the perfect life: a handsome husband, a palatial house in the heart of glittering Lagos, Nigeria, and a glamorous group of friends. She left gloomy London and a dark family past behind for sunny, moneyed Lagos, becoming part of the Nigerwives—a community of foreign women married to wealthy Nigerian men.

But when Nicole disappears without a trace after a boat trip, the cracks in her so-called perfect life start to show. As the investigation turns up nothing but dead ends, her Auntie Claudine decides to take matters into her own hands. Armed with only a cell phone and a plane ticket to Nigeria, she digs into her niece’s life and uncovers a hidden side filled with dark secrets, isolation, and even violence. But the more she discovers about her niece, the more Claudine’s own buried history threatens to come to light.

An inventively told and keenly observant thriller where nothing is as it seems, The Nigerwife is a razor-sharp look at the bonds of family, the echoing consequences of secrets, and whether we can ever truly outrun our past.

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The Writing Retreat
by Julia Bartz

A wild ride from page one, this stylish and well-written story brims with secrets, intrigue, and murder. Why has enigmatic author Roza Vallo assembled a disparate group of aspiring young female writers at her secluded, soon-to-be snowbound estate? Blending themes of friendship, ambition, creativity, and courage, this story is one I promise you will struggle to put down.

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The Writing Retreat
Julia Bartz

The Plot meets Please Join Us in this psychological suspense debut about a young author at an exclusive writer’s retreat that descends into a nightmare.

Alex has all but given up on her dreams of becoming a published author when she receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. Even the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend and current rival, is attending doesn’t dampen her excitement.

But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she’s desperate to discover the truth and save herself.

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of female friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
by Agatha Christie

The eponymous victim in this novel is a neighbour of Hercule Poirot, and his sudden, violent demise brings the detective out of retirement. As he interrogates Ackroyd’s household, he discovers that the receipt of a mysterious letter seems to have led to murder. On THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD’s publication in 1926, the Scotsman said the twist was “one of the cleverest and most original of its kind.”

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie

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The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

This ingenious tailspin of a book starts at a country house party. Our narrator stumbles in after witnessing a murder so traumatic that his memory has been wiped clean. The mystery deepens the following morning, when he wakes up and finds he’s about to live the same day again—as a completely different character. The same thing happens the next morning, and the next, and so on, seven times in all. Who is this narrator, and why is he stuck in a literary version of Groundhog Day?

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The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Stuart Turton

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The Chateau
by Catherine Cooper

Aura and Nick have sold their London house and arrive at a rundown chateau in rural France ready for a new start in a community of expats. Before they can unpack, a body appears on the lawn, and, quite simply, anyone they’ve met so far could have done it. If you’re stumped as to who could be the guilty party, remember that Cooper is a master of misdirection and unfolds this intriguing mystery with extraordinary aplomb.

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The Chateau
Catherine Cooper

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The Christie Affair
by Nina de Gramont

A meta delight for fans of Golden Age crime writing, THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR is a fictional murder mystery woven around the real-life temporary disappearance of Agatha Christie. Whether you know much about what happened or not, you’ll find this “creatively reimagined” whodunit totally irresistible—and totally foxing!

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The Christie Affair
Nina de Gramont

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The Twyford Code
by Janice Hallett

THE TWYFORD CODE comes out on January 24!

Forty years ago, Steven “Smithy” Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. When he showed it to his remedial English teacher Miss Iles, she believed that it was part of a secret code that ran through all of Twyford’s novels. And when she disappeared on a class field trip, Smithy became convinced that she had been right. Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Smithy decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. In a series of voice recordings on an old iPhone from his estranged son, Smithy alternates between visiting the people of his childhood and looking back on the events that later landed him in prison. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code holds a great secret, and Smithy may just have the key.

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The Twyford Code
Janice Hallett

The mysterious connection between a teacher’s disappearance and an unsolved code in a children’s book is explored in this fresh novel from the author of the “clever and often wryly funny” (PopSugar) novel The Appeal.

Forty years ago, Steven “Smithy” Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. When he showed it to his remedial English teacher Miss Iles, she believed that it was part of a secret code that ran through all of Twyford’s novels. And when she disappeared on a class field trip, Smithy became convinced that she had been right.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Smithy decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. In a series of voice recordings on an old iPhone from his estranged son, Smithy alternates between visiting the people of his childhood and looking back on the events that later landed him in prison.

But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code holds a great secret, and Smithy may just have the key.

“A modern Agatha Christie” (The Sunday Times, London), Janice Hallett has constructed a fiendishly clever, maddeningly original crime novel for lovers of word games, puzzles, and stories of redemption.

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