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Thursday 19 October 2023

‘The Family on Smith Street’ by Elisabeth Carpenter

Published by Orion,
10 August 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-83790-580-5 (PB)

One thing you can be sure of when you pick up a new Elisabeth Carpenter novel: it will be quite different from anything of hers you’ve read before. Another thing is that you’ll be gripped from the first page. So, it is with this one; from the chilling start right through to the corkscrew twist in the final chapter, it had me hooked.

Three points of view alternate to tell the story. Joanna is imprisoned by an unknown kidnapper who is able to track her every move. Her daughter Scarlett is devastated, not only by her mum’s disappearance but also by her dad’s completely uncharacteristic reaction and sets out to find answers. And then there’s Alex, whose story begins nearly thirty years ago during his disturbing, and disturbed, adolescence.

The novel is far more than a thriller about a kidnapping. It’s an exploration of the effect a traumatic event can have on a family – and not just on Joanna’s family. As the two time-frames unfold, it becomes clear that the impact of tragedy can spread much further than the people directly in the firing line – and people is the operative word there. Elisabeth Carpenter’s great talent is creating lifelike characters and placing them in situations which could affect anyone. Grandparents are suddenly thrust into the parental role all over again. A young woman outside a shop becomes the totally random target of someone’s anger. A woman who has never stopped looking for her missing sister catches sight of a Facebook post which leads to answers. All these are minor episodes in the story, but huge for the people involved.

The backgrounds in which Carpenter places her characters are just as well drawn, and clearly designed to provide even more personality layers. A small farm, a student flat, a teenager’s bedroom, all come to life and supply their inhabitants with exactly the right setting.

It’s all seamlessly woven into a plot which creeps stealthily along, getting under your skin until you’re almost living through the same hell as Joanna’s family, or desperate to know what Alex will do next. And there’s one of the twistiest pieces of misdirection I’ve encountered for a long time, the clues laid with care and precision which points you right away from what’s really happening – but maybe towards somewhere that’s equally wrong.

When I reached the end, and let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, my next thought after ‘Well, I didn’t see that coming’  was, ‘What will this author pull out of the bag next?’ I can hardly wait to see.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elisabeth (Libby) 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.


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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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