Everyone is acquainted with the feeling of blind panic that comes about when you lose something valuable such as a wallet. It is almost as though your senses converge and ALL you can think about is finding your lost item. Then, imagine that feeling magnified exponentially… for it is a precious child you have lost.
This is the tale of a loving mother and daughter who become separated. Beth, a single mother living in Norfolk, England and her eight year-old daughter, Carmel. They are everything to each other. Carmel is a precocious, sensitive, and intelligent little girl who loves books, words, drawing, and animals. For a special treat Beth takes Carmel to a story-telling fair. A sort of carnival with tents set up in a big field. Each tent features a person reading from a book. Books are for sale there as well. When a ‘sea fog‘ rolls in they become separated.
Carmel is abducted by who she believes to be her grandfather – but who is actually an unethical American preacher. As I read this novel I was filled with a sense of disquieting unease. The man that has taken Carmel is not physically unkind to her, but he is emotionally cruel. However, his warped thinking prohibits the reader from hating him too much… He believes in faith healing and he also believes that Carmel has the ability to heal by ‘the laying on of the hands‘. His belief is well founded.
“The Girl in the Red Coat” is told in short chapters alternating from Beth’s to Carmel’s point of view. Carmel’s story is told in an eight year-old’s voice and is done so with skill and empathy. Beth’s story, equally tragic, is one of a mother clinging to hope, trying to cope with equal parts guilt and despair. It tells of the little mind games she plays, making ‘bargains’ with God as the days without Carmel turn into weeks, then months…
Despite their mutual tragedy, life rolls on bringing about its own guilt and separate experiences. New people enter the lives of both Beth and Carmel.
Stories play a huge part in this novel. The ones loved by the protagonists as well as the ones the protagonists tell themselves in order to endure the unthinkable events that have occurred in their lives. It’s not really a mystery because we know whodunit. It is the senseless tragedy of the situation that plays upon the reader’s psyche.
It is the writing that sets this novel apart from other tales of missing/abducted children. The characters were unforgettable and the sentences were wrought with vivid imagery. It is difficult to believe that this is a debut novel.
This painting by Ken Barclay depicts how I imagined Carmel to look:
TLC Book Tours has sponsored a giveaway for a print copy of “The Girl in the Red Coat“. To enter just ‘Like‘ or ‘Comment‘ on this blog post during the month of February 2016. The winner will be chosen via Random.org
Here is a great article about Kate Hamer I found online from the Independent.
“The Girl with the Red Coat” is **Finalist for the Costa Book Award for First Novel** and **Finalist for the Dagger Award**
KATE HAMER is a winner of the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize. Girl in the Red Coat is her first novel. It is shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for First Novel and a finalist for The Dagger Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales with her husband and two children.