Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Have you ever gotten through a book so quickly that you don’t always appreciate how good the story actually is? But then you mull over it for a few days and weeks, then you realise it was brilliant. Well, I did that with this one.


Carmel has always been different – sometimes odd, distracted and prone to getting lost. When she and her mother, Beth, spend a day out at a festival, they become separated and Carmel disappears. As Beth desperately searches for her daughter, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, with a man who claims she has a special gift.

What I say:

Here’s the thing. I was so excited to read this book, but I did the one thing you should never do before reading a new book, I judged it by its cover. I approached the book thinking it’d be fast-paced psychological thriller about love (because red is obviously the colour of love), and the broken button symbolised brokenness and struggle. And, well, that’s a very shallow observation and belittles Kate Hamer’s wonderful debut.

We meet Beth, Carmel’s mother, at the start of the novel. She speaks to us out of loss, pain and love. Beth tells us of the dream Carmel’s in and you immediately feel Beth’s panic even though it’s the beginning of the story.

Carmel on the other hand is nothing like her panicking mother. She’s worlds away, always daydreaming, floating away off to some unknown place where everything’s peaceful and happy. But this eight-year-old is very clued up. She’s witty and intelligent but it doesn’t always come across to other characters because she spends a lot of time in her head.

Fast-forward a little before an event that’ll change both Beth and Carmel forever is the struggle between parent and child. Beth wants to cling to what’s left of her baby girl, and Carmel wants to break free and live in her own world. At times Carmel can be cruel to her mum when things don’t go her way, but no sooner than she says or does something, she quickly tries to make amends with her mum. It’s little things like these that make Carmel a vivid and real character.

The tone of the novel quickly changes from parent and child annoyance and anger, to despair and loss. Beth is overcome by grief, and her ex-husband does his best to put the nail in the coffin when he finds out how Carmel went missing. Beth’s estranged family try their best to rally around her, as do her friends, although I’m not sure I’d call them friends.

Split between Beth and Carmel’s point of view is this devastating tale of love, loss and regret wrapped in one. It’s not the thriller I thought it would have been. I expected detectives breaking down doors (as they tend to do in crime fiction), searching high and low for the missing child and bringing us some hope. But what’s more important here in Hamer’s novel isn’t necessarily the investigation, but the heart of a young and desperate mother who’ll never stop searching for her child.

There are scenes in this novel that made me want to go and hug my mum for simply being there. Other times I wanted to slap the ‘representation’ of motherhood Carmel was exposed to. And then there are Carmel’s monumental life experiences, her defiance and her loyalty. (I can’t tell you what I mean by that either.)

All these things upon later reflection changed my mind about this novel. The characters are life-like and convincing. I certainly can’t fault them. In hindsight I wouldn’t want this to be a police procedural, it’s perfect as it is. Hamer’s achieved a page-turning psychological drama, with some thrilling elements and that’s more than enough for me.

Where to buy:

If you want a change in pace and a book that’ll pull at your heartstrings, grab your copy from Amazon or Waterstones.

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