One of the most anticipated debut novels of the year, ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ by Kate Hamer tells the story of Carmel Wakeford, an eight-year-old girl who goes missing after becoming separated from her mother, Beth, at a local storytelling festival in Norfolk. She is abducted by a man who says he is her estranged grandfather and believes Carmel has a special gift. He tells her that her mother is dead and he takes her to start a new life in the United States as a faith healer travelling to various evangelical churches. Meanwhile, Beth is struggling to come to terms with her disappearance and is doing everything she can to find her daughter.
‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ is the latest in a string of popular novels with “Girl” in the title: ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ by Steig Larsson, ‘Gone Girl‘ by Gillian Flynn and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ by Paula Hawkins to name a few. However, there are two key differences between ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ and these other titles. Firstly, the “girl” in the title really is a young girl rather than a woman and secondly, ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ is the only one of these books which doesn’t fit comfortably into the crime or thriller genre. Instead, Hamer has taken inspiration from fairy tales, most notably ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and there is a dreamlike quality to her prose with a relatively slow pace.
The story alternates between Carmel and Beth’s version of events as the days, weeks and months pass after her abduction. I wasn’t always convinced by some parts of the story, particularly Carmel’s voice as an eight-year-old child which I felt was uneven and unrealistically grown-up at times, as well as the idea of her being abducted to become a sort of faith healer. On the other hand, I found Beth’s situation much more compelling as she dealt with the grief and uncertainty of her daughter’s disappearance, not knowing if, when or how to move on.
Overall, ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ is more chilling than thrilling, although it was the mystery surrounding whether or not Carmel’s true identity would be rediscovered which kept me reading. The concept at the beginning is intriguing with an unusual take on mother-daughter relationships as well as some interesting ideas around the theme of religion. However, I don’t think the early promise at the beginning was quite sustained to the end.
Many thanks to Faber & Faber Ltd for sending me a review copy of ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ via NetGalley.