By Kassadi Moore
BANGOR, ME-Kate Hamer of Wales is the author of the mystery novel “The Girl in the Red Coat.” This book follows a single-mother and her daughter as they are separated after a kidnapping. The story starts with the mother, Beth, vaguely explaining how she lost her daughter, and how she misses her. After a few pages, the chapter changes to the daughter Carmel’s perspective years before the kidnapping. The book follows this pattern almost throughout the whole story. Each chapter is short, guiding the reader through the lives of the two characters, all the while, giving subtle details as to what has occurred and what is to come.
Beth is a single mother struggling through the difficulties of working, paying bills and recovering from a divorce. Her former husband, left her for a younger version. While these issues do burden Beth, they are masked her encapsulating fear that she will lose her free-minded daughter. Eight-year old Carmel is different and very intelligent the teachers say. Her mind wanders between thoughts, chasing them as though she is attached by string. She wants to learn, she wants to explore, but she doesn’t want her mother hovering over her. Carmel makes it very clear that she loves her mother, but Beth’s over-watching eyes frustrates her. Similarly, Carmel’s wandering not only frustrates Beth but scares her. Hamer teases the reader in the beginning by introducing this elements, then taking the characters through situations where they are separated but not lost yet.
Then it happens, Beth and Carmel get separated at a busy fair, and Carmel gets taken. This one is for real. Hamer ensures the reader knows this is where it really happens. The chapters fly by as the reader knows how to connect the two together, but cannot. The reader witnesses a kidnapping. Hamer also introduces the kidnapper and a possible motive. As with any mystery novel, the initial explanation is never the answer. Carmel is taken by an old, mysterious man, whom Hamer frames to be Beth’s estranged father. The kidnapper convinces Carmel that he is Beth’s father, and that Beth was killed in a car accident. The kidnapper, whom Carmel calls Gramps, said that Carmel’s father could not take care of her either. Now, she was to live with him.
Once the reader discovers that Gramps is not Carmel’s grandfather, book takes a strange turn. Previously, it seem the grandfather wanted Carmel to try reconnect with her in some strange way. Eventually, the reader learns that Gramps wants to use Carmel’s talents to make money. A supernatural aspect comes into play where Carmel can heal people. She feel the “electricity” move through her, and people are healed. Gramps said it is the work of God, and that Carmel is an angel. Gramps can heal people as well.
This plot twist brings plot holes. The reader never truly understands what Carmel is doing or if she believes she is doing. It is also implied that Gramps kidnapped a child previously with the same intentions he had with Carmel, then killed her. Her ghost, as the reader might assume, briefly tries to communicate with Carmel. Again, no answers. There were small hints throughout the book vaguely explaining the answers as to who Gramps and Carmel really are, and what they are doing, but there is nothing to connect the dots. It appears that Hamer wanted there to be unanswered question to add mystery to the acts Carmel and Gramps were committing, but it only left the reader with an unsettling feeling. Eventually, Gramps is arrested and Carmel returns to Beth. At this point in the book, it is unsure what Carmel believes or even if she is human. Yet, when she returns to her mother and there are no answers. In fact, Hamer does not even give the perspective of Carmel discovering that her mother is still alive and the man she believed to be her grandfather was her kidnapper. The book ends with Carmel and Beth being reunited at an airport and this final line from Beth’s perspective: “She sees me and not meaning to I lift my hand in a kind of greeting and she does the same. And I shouldn’t have worried about her not recognizing me, not at all, because we know each other at once.”
While mystery novels often explode with questions, they also end with answers. This novel did not give answers even indirectly. It felt unfinished and unsettling. The plot line, suspense and general overview of the book was very entertaining and captivating, but would have been much more satisfying with a proper ending and explanations.