It’s starts as an exciting day out as Beth takes her 8-year-old daughter Carmel to a book fair. But events take a drastic turn as the weather becomes overcast, and Beth becomes nervous of losing Carmel, who is a dreamy child and prone to occasionally wandering off on her own.
Beth’s worst fears are realised when she becomes separated from Carmel in one of the tents. She seeks help from the organisers, and eventually the police are called. But of Carmel and her distinctive red coat there is no sign. Days turn into weeks and weeks into months as the investigation slowly dwindles to a halt as leads dry up. Will Beth ever see Carmel again?
I have mixed feelings about this novel. There were positives: it’s a quick, easy read and I did want to know how the story would turn out. The point of view alternates between Beth and Carmel, and this sets it apart from other ‘abducted child’ novels; getting Carmel’s perspective removes the question of whether the missing child is still alive or not and allows the reader to focus on the experience of both mother and child as they try to deal with their respective circumstances. I thought that Hamer captured Beth’s feelings and her difficulty coping with this horrific situation successfully. But, I didn’t feel that Carmel was convincing as an 8-year-old, however bright we’re told that she is.
I have something of a ‘bug bear’ about plot elements that aren’t explained or tied up successfully by the end of a novel, and there were elements of this within The Girl in the Red Coat. In fact, I found the whole ending to be unsatisfactory – it was anticlimactic and quite abrupt (turn a page and it’s done!), and it felt to me as though Hamer wasn’t sure how to bring the novel to a close.
There were also elements of the novel that I just didn’t buy in to, such as Beth’s friendship with her ex-husband’s new partner. This seemed completely unrealistic to me. I can see how such an event would bring Beth and her husband closer together i.e. the shared experience of losing their daughter, and by extension how Beth might need to be on speaking terms with his partner, but I felt that the friendship developed within the novel would be quite unlikely in reality.
Overall, I was left feeling a little disappointed with The Girl in the Red Coat. It’s an interesting premise, and it starts well, but I found that it became repetitive and slow in the second half of the novel. Hamer’s tried to do something a little different here, but it just wasn’t to my taste.