’99 Red Balloons’ is the first book by Elisabeth Carpenter.
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.
’99 Red Balloons’ is Elisabeth’s debut novel and it was a book that consumed my attention one afternoon.
The story is about every parents nightmare, when their child is suddenly snatched from their lives, never to be returned and the parents are then to spend the rest of their days, wondering and hoping that their child will return to their lives, safe and sound.
Right from the start in this atmospheric book, we are drawn into the innocent world of a little girl, when a strange man approaches her. She is puzzled and scared of this man and has always been warned against strangers. But once he assures her that he’s acting on behalf of her mother, she trusts and warms to this stranger, who she naively thinks that her safety is his only concern.
The story flows between three main characters, the little girl who has been kidnapped. Stephanie, who’s little niece Grace is taken one day and follows her as the family deal with being the subject of the police’s investigation as well as they count every passing minute as they fear that Grace maybe in danger. The story also follows an older woman called Maggie, who’s granddaughter disappeared over twenty years ago, which resulted in her own daughter, Sarah taking her life. Maggie is convinced that the recent kidnapping has a lot of similarities with Zoe’s disappearance and we see this elderly woman become obsessed with the case and begin her own investigation.
The story is really cleverly and realistically written, that it feels like your own child has been taken, as the plot really explores the emotions of the nightmare and tensions that it can have on a family. The story flows quickly between the characters, each chapter flowing seamlessly into each one and leaves the reader gasping at each turn.
The inclusion of Maggie’s perspective was also really smart. The story is primarily seen through the eyes of younger characters, so Maggie’s narrative was interesting. She’s old, frail and has nearly given up on life but the recent disappearance has given her a new sense, driving her on to finally put her own ghosts to rest. There was also a deep sense of poignancy in the chapters with the child, as before your eyes, you see the child stripped of their innocence and having to face the harsh reality ahead.
Riddled with suspense, dodgy characters and situations that makes everyone a suspect, this book was impossible to put down.
If you’re looking for an atmospheric and intelligent thriller that pulls you centre stage into every parents nightmare when a child goes missing, then ’99 Red Balloons’ is a must read for you.
You can buy 99 Red Balloons from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.