Two girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter?
When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge.
What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems?
Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared
The cover and the title drew me to this book - a debut thriller from Libby Carpenter - but the writing, and the gripping multi-perspective story telling kept me reading, well into the wee hours.
This is a book that twists and turns in ways you don't see coming - but at the heart is a storyline that any parent can identify with. The horror of having to deal with the knowledge that your beloved child has disappeared and has most likely been snatched.
We all have stories in our minds from recent years of missing children - those faces we see staring at us from newspapers or round the clock news coverage on TV. So this book immediately draws the reader into that world - the world of a family imploding as they deal with the possible abduction of eight year old Grace Harper. There are her parents, her aunt, her cousin, her somewhat distant grandmother - not to mention those on the periphery of their lives who are immediately caught up in every parent's worst nightmare.
The book also follows the story of Maggie - a grandmother who can only sympathise with what the Harper's are going through - her grand-daughter Zoe having disappeared 30 years previously leading to a catastrophic turn of events for her family. She wants to reach out to the Harpers, but has become embittered by her losses. As I mentioned this book is told through multiple points of view, Grace's aunt, Steph, the abducted child, the abductor and Maggie but the multiple voices don't ever become confusing, Each is clear and distinct and adds a carefully crafted layer to the story. The pace of this novel is good - and certainly as it reaches it's dramatic climax I simply could not put the book down and my heart was in my throat. This book is exceptionally accomplished for a debut novel - there are some passages which are beautifully written, tender and genuinely very moving. Other passages have just the right amount of menace about them. It also explores how experiences can change a person - and how the mind does what it needs to do to protect us from our own harmful memories.
For me, the real gem in this book is Maggie - a beautifully written character who I was rooting from from the start. Her friendship with Jim is just perfectly drawn.
This is a book that I would love to see adapted for the small screen - and if this is Libby Carpenter's debut - I'm very much looking forward to seeing what she does next. Highly recommended.
99 Red Balloons will be published by Avon on August 24, 2017.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, via Netgalley.