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Tuesday 10 July 2018

‘11 Missed Calls’ by Elisabeth Carpenter

Published by Avon,
26 July 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-00822354-0 (PB)

It's well known that most violent crime takes place within families, and it's a sad fact that creates a rich seam for crime and thriller writers to mine.

Elisabeth Carpenter picked it up and ran with it in her debut novel, which explored what can happen when a child goes missing. In her second, there's another missing person, but this time it's a young mother.

Debbie hasn't been seen for thirty years; she failed to return from a family holiday in Tenerife, leaving behind a husband and two children including a baby only a few weeks old. It was never clear if she was dead, or if she had absconded with the husband of her best friend. Her family moved on and the children grew up – and now there appears to be evidence that Debbie is alive and trying to make contact.

The story is told from two points of view: Anna, Debbie's now grown-up daughter who has a family and problems of her own; and Debbie herself, in alternating chapters set back in 1986, when she was a struggling mother of a newborn. Both narrating characters are well drawn. I ached for Anna, who is thrown into confusion by both her desire to know what happened to her mother; and I almost wept for Debbie, misunderstood and clearly in the grip of post-natal depression, which was not nearly as well recognized back then.

There are other family members involved in both poignant situations, of course. Peter, Debbie's husband, is blokeish and insensitive in 1986, but reveals a vulnerable centre in the present-day scenario. Monica, Debbie's best friend, is a tangle of enigmas, and her 1980s husband Nathan is too charming to be trusted. Jack, Anna's husband, has problems of his own. Frank, Debbie's father, has grieved for thirty years and is still fragile. Then there's the mysterious Ellen, who seems to know a lot more than she is telling. And who is the person in the red car, and where are the notes on distinctive pink paper coming from?

Elisabeth Carpenter has captured the knack of releasing information a little at a time to maintain the tension level and makes good use of family life to create distractions at key moments. She's also good at background. The bookshop where Anna works, the beach at Lytham St Anne's, the apartment complex and the landscape in Tenerife all give the novel plenty of local colour, and there's enough detail in 1986 chapters to bring the era to life.

Domestic noir is a burgeoning sub-genre, and Carpenter is a new author to watch.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston with her family. She completed a BA in English Literature and Language with the Open University in 2008. Elisabeth was awarded a Northern Writers’ New Fiction award and was longlisted for Yeovil Literary Prize (2015 and 2016) and the MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015). She loves living in the north of England and sets most of her stories in the area, including the novel she is writing at the moment. She currently works as a book keeper.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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