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November book club - The Girl in the Red Coat

(107 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 02-Nov-15 11:23:27

Hopefully our winners should have received their copies of this month's book club choice - more details here

Once you've had a chance to read, don't forget to leave your comments and your questions for author Kate Hamer here. We will be sending them over to her at the end of the month/

Chichachongawonga Sun 06-Dec-15 07:57:35

I have mixed feelings about this book. Beth's pain and distress was described very well but I found it tended to get a bit boring as it went on. I enjoyed the alternative chapter flicking from her to Carmel. Its was not the thriller I anticipated but found it 'shivers down the spine' as I have a Grandaughter the same age and it so easily can happen to you. I wanted more detail about Grandfather and was left wondering. I know it had a happy ending which is not usual in these types of abduction but I felt a deep sadness at the lost years between mother and child whilst she had been away and grown into a young lady. Average book.

GrannyGlyn Sun 06-Dec-15 13:19:32

Thanks again Gransnet for encouraging me to read a book I would have walked away from. I've said before that I only go for "light" subjects in the books I choose.
I'm glad I didn't have long to read it or I might have put it off. I was very unsure if I could read a book about child abduction.

I found it a very compelling read. Hard to put down and read in about 4 sessions which is good for me.
Having said that for a book with such detailed descriptions most of the way through, I was disappointed that the end was so sudden and there were, for me, unanswered questions.
What happened to the original Mercy?
Did Carmel's gift stay with her or was Maxine the last person she healed (did she heal her?)
What happened after Beth and Carmel were reunited?

Is Kate going to revisit the characters or is the next book going to be totally different?

Lynnie Mon 07-Dec-15 12:27:17

I was told I had won but never received my copy.

cikada Mon 07-Dec-15 12:30:13

Thank you so much for my copy, which unfortunately only arrived a few days ago, but I shall start reading it immediately and hopefully will not be too late for giving my comments.

jeberdes83 Mon 07-Dec-15 16:32:42

I was a little disappointed with "Red Coat". It seemed that Carmel although only eight years old, was quite "bright" so I was rather surprised that she made no attempt to escape , as she wasn't actually imprisoned or restrained. I know she was told her Mother had died but it still seemed rather odd to me. Gramps & Dorothy were definitely weird, and I am not really into the "airy fairy " healing thing.

Grannyknot Tue 08-Dec-15 22:15:01

Hi I also received my copy of this book late - just about at the end of November, and now I find I can't get into it. Soz. Tried 3 times and have now given it to my daughter to read.

Marymore Wed 09-Dec-15 07:25:43

Thanks for my book which I have just finished reading. When I started reading it I was a bit worried that it would be too harrowing and it was a bit, a child going missing is every parent's nightmare. When I got to the end, like another one of your readers, I felt there were quite a few questions I wanted answering. I felt it ended too soon and in a bit of a rush. Despite that I did like the characters in the book and their bravery, especially Carmel. Although the Dad Paul was slightly annoying. On the whole a good read but not a great read

grandma60 Thu 10-Dec-15 15:18:26

Just finished this book today. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would as I wouldn't choose a thriller. However it was much more than that even though as others have said it was a bit slow in parts and a lot of the ending was left unexplained. I used to work with a lady who was an Evangelical Christian and I was fascinated by how many things that happened in the book were things that she mentioned in her descriptions of what went on in her church. (healing, uneven legs growing etc). I wonder if the author has had any first hand connection with this sect.

milkflake Thu 10-Dec-15 18:57:15

A bit late in getting the book, but pleased to have been sent a copy.
Its not a thriller in my mind though.
It kept me interested in the beginning but I did get a bit bored as it went on as I kept expecting more to happen.
It is well written, but Carmel's part of the story was far too advanced vocabulary for a young child.
There are some loose ends I would liked to have tied up.
Overall I enjoyed it and will look out for Kate Hamer's next book.

emmasnan Mon 14-Dec-15 13:23:20

I did enjoy this book although I wouldn't call it a thriller. Not my usual choice of book but pleased I had a chance to read it.
Did feel it ended before everything was explained and felt there should have been one more chapter.

GrannyHaggis Wed 16-Dec-15 16:09:59

Sorry, a bit late in contributing. I enjoyed the book, but felt there were a few things which seemed a bit 'far-fetched'. e.g. How did Carmel get to America without any suspicions being aroused; why did she accept her new life when she clearly felt uncomfortable;
Having said that I did find the book compelling and enjoyed the way the chapters alternated between Beth and Carmel' stories.
It also ended with the reader wondering what had happened after the reunion, or perhaps that was meant to be left to the reader to decide.
A good read, but not a thriller.
Thank you for the copy. I shall pass it on to my DD to see what she thinks about it.

Grannycupcake Thu 17-Dec-15 23:54:29

Just finished reading it. Enjoyed it very much. I thought that it left enough loose ends to start a new book. Maybe that is the author's intention.

myk Mon 21-Dec-15 16:28:59

This story revolves around the greatest fear of a parent – the unexplained disappearance of a child. This seems to be a product of the present time as I'm sure that level of panic wasn't around in the same way when I was young. A consequence of this is that the most dangerous place for children has now become the school entrance, with urban tanks being driven by mothers who are barely capable of controlling a pram.

We follow the development of the tragedy from the view points of both the mother and the daughter, most times, but not always, the same period of time being seen from both sides. Here we get the impression that both blame themselves for what happened, the mother for being angry and distracted at the festival, the daughter for being stroppy and selfish. If they had their time again they would do different.

But it's not as easy as that. The abductor uses the young girl's innocence to get information which he is then able to use against her, to fool her into believing that he is who she thinks. Her own desire, and by not having her mother's break with her parents explained previously, means that, in a way, she was looking for him. The recent abandoning of her and her mother by her father only adds to her confusion and vulnerability. The mother beats herself up as that is the only way she can face the situation as there is no news of Carmel at all as the months turn into years.

And that works well until the abductors take her out of the country.

We are asked to accept that she is flown to the United States, drugged and totally unaware of what happened. This takes place some time after the actual abduction and becomes even more unbelievable because of it. Although an intelligent young girl she just seems to accept the situation as it gets more and more bizarre. This is the case even when she comes across evidence that things aren't all that it should be – but is that me expecting an eight year old to be more astute than they are in fact?

The reason she is abducted in the first place is due to the idea that the crazy old man has that she has special powers. And this makes a lot of money for her new 'family' but we are asked to accept that she really does have such powers? Where does that come from? Just because a child doesn't fit into the norm it doesn't mean that s/he is actually a miracle child.

Then we have a big jump in time. The majority of the novel takes place in the first year around the abduction but then we jump a matter of 4 years or more. Now Carmel is a teenager and although we are given glimpses that she is more aware of certain aspects of what she is involved in – a scam that makes a lot of money for a few people – she doesn't seem to learn from all her experiences in a strange land with even stranger people.

This unravelling of reality is what changed a promising start and an interesting concept eventually into an unsatisfying read.

Grannyknot Tue 22-Dec-15 15:14:36

I've now finally got into this book, and read it. Possibly because I had more time lately for reading.

I thought the premise was good and therefore did become interested, for example, as it dawned on me that this abduction had to do with religious craziness (rather then what I was anticipating it may be, sexual abuse).

But like others, there was quite a bit in the book that we were asked to accept and I would question - e.g. why didn't this intelligent girl go straight to the organisers of the book fair when she realised that she had lost her mother again? It's not like it was the first time it had happened to her and she should have known the ropes, I'm sure her mum would have spelled it out to her what to do should she ever find herself separated from her mother again. I also found it confusing, and the explanation a bit vague, that she then found herself in the U.S.A. I find it unbelievable that never once in all the time she was with the old man and Dorothy, that she didn't approach or talk to any other adults (particularly during the times when she was out with Dorothy) e.g. in a shop, and at the very least tell them her story. Her acceptance of the old man's explanations for her mother and her father not being available, would not have been sufficient to silence an intelligent young child (I would think), especially because the "granddad" was decidedly odd.

I found myself skimming the last few chapters.

I had given the book to my daughter to read and she enjoyed it a lot, so perhaps it is the "older and wiser" reader that would find much to question.

Pennyjw Mon 28-Dec-15 15:04:02

Thank you for the book, I received it with no problems and was looking forward to reading it over the Christmas holiday. Much appreciated.

Initially I found it rather shallow and struggled to keep reading, but bore in mind a comment on the book jacket that said it should be read "in one go"! After a while I become more involved with the characters but although the mother was very credible and I got her entirely, I did not find the daughter realistic. Carmel just did not ring true and seemed like a mini-adult rather than a child. The story lacked some depth and could have had other threads woven into it, for example the background and character of the real Mercy, the background of Gramps etc.

Its easy to criticise when I have not written a book and am unlikely to do so! However, thats the point of giving feedback - GREAT story but more work on detail and background for me please!

nonnanna Thu 31-Dec-15 07:40:11

Thank you for my copy of 'The Girl in the Red Coat'. Like other readers I found it a little difficult to think that Carmel would just accept her abduction and not attempt to make outsiders realise her situation. All part of the religious brainwashing, I guess. Descriptions of the meetings, healings and talking in tongues were very accurate. I'd like to know if Kate Hamer had experience of seeing these or if she has written from internet or book research. It would have been a better read if there had been more linkage and detail particularly around the journey to the USA. The book has gaps that could be filled to maintain the reader's interested. The story would make a excellent TV film, has Kate Hamer any plans for this?

nonnanna Thu 31-Dec-15 07:44:55

Grrrrr.... why do posts make perfect sense during writing and previewing then produce glaring errors the very second I press to post? Sorry! I need to walk away from the keyboard now blush

middleagespread Mon 04-Jan-16 15:39:55

A late arrival of my copy, mid December, leads to a late review as Christmas got in the way. However, once I started it I was right there with the Mum, Beth, who had lost Carmel on a day out. The chapters mostly alternated with viewpoints from Mum and Carmel herself. the circumstances of her disappearance were believable and tracking both their lives in the aftermath of this horrible ongoing event was challenging as I got further on. The quality of the descriptive writing and the dialogue from a child, flipping with a turn of a page to an adult had me hooked. The oddness of Carmel was reflected back into the past with a glimpse at her Grandmothers past. The plot was gripping although towards the last chapters I read slower as I was slightly nervous of the possible outcomes. All in all a thoroughly good read, a memorable book about a difficult subject.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 09:58:50


I finished the The Girl In The Red Coat during the night, after reading it at every available moment. (Look away now if you haven't finished it yet!) It was a real page turner for me, I was desperate to know what happened next just about all the way through the book. I thought the characters were very well drawn and would like to ask the same questions as Grannijacq1. What happened to the original Mercy? Gramps did a truly horrible thing in luring Carmel away but there was a lot about his character which did not seem so bad - I wonder if this was intentional? The emotions of Carmel's mother were particularly well described, did Kate Hammer have any experience of this awful thing happening to anyone? I would quite liked to have read Carmel's reactions to meeting her mother again and her new half-sister, I didn't expect the sudden ending - but a book has to end somewhere and all in all it was a great read and I look forward to Kate Hammer's next book. Thank you Gransnet for my first book club book.

Does anyone know when we can expect the next book to be announced? (Have asked this before but no-one answered!!)

Thank you baNANAGran3
I once read ‘every villain is the hero in his own story’ and that really informed me in my portrayal of Gramps. He feels he is justified and right (however wrongheaded and evil acting) and his principle problem is his ego which he wants to nurture and protect – and he makes others suffer because of that. Black and white characters don't interest me – it's in the shades of grey that people come alive, I believe. In terms of Carmel’s mum, I don't know anyone who has had that experience, I just sort of followed my instincts in the writing of her. Basically I think the book is about love and that's what drove Beth's narrative.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:03:35


I found this compulsive reading, and a superb first novel. I thought that the concept of a missing child would be too harrowing to read - but the vein of 'magic realism' that seems to permeate the novel prevents this. It is described as a 'thriller', but seems to encompass a range of genres, including a coming-of-age novel, as Carmel develops from an 8 year old girl into a young woman. It is also a novel about the mother/daughter relationship, with Carmel more readily able to accept changes in her life than her mother. The narrative voice, which switches between Beth and Carmel, works extremely well and I loved some of the descriptive details and images - particularly those used by Carmel when trying to describe her emotions. All the characters were convincingly created - with subtle differences between Melody and Silver, for example. There were a few unanswered questions at the end: what happened to Mercy? Who exactly is Gramps? I wanted to dislike Gramps, but, bizarrely, I ended up feeling sorry for him. I wonder if Kate Hamer has ever had any experience of faith healing - or believes in it? And what exactly was Carmel's strange gift?
Thank you, Gransnet, for choosing this novel for the Book Club, as I probably wouldn't have picked it off the shelf myself to read. I look forward to reading more novels by Kate Hamer in the future.

I guess the unanswered questions are meant to be there and I hope they don't interfere too much with the narrative! I haven't had any experience of faith healing but the subject really interests me and I'm not sure where I stand on it. Does it really exist? Are the healers perhaps people who can provoke others into healing their own bodies? Is it some kind of hypnosis that occurs and does that really matter? I know it's an area with a great deal of bunkum and myth, however I very firmly wanted to make Carmel's gift real. Her strange gift is exactly that – she is a healer.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:06:59


I found this an enthralling and engrossing read with the device of the two main characters taking turns in telling their stories working very well. The way they never lost the belief and hopes in each other was very well described. Having once lost my son aged about 10 in a small shopping centre for about an hour 25 years ago I can relate to the initial terror Beth feels. All in all a great read well described with true to life characters throughout capturing the recalcitrant teen in Carmel as she grows especially well. I would certainly look out for future work by Ms Hamer. Thanks to her, the publisher and Gransnet for my copy.
Question may be a spoiler for those who have not reached certain points in the book. Could you clear up for me please whether you are asking the reader to believe that Mercy/Carmel does have healing powers or is she being used by others in a religious con trick? How much research did you do into religious groups in the US? The story seems ripe for a sequel, any thoughts?

Thanks DavidH22 – glad you liked it! In the story I wanted very clearly for Carmel to have healing powers (Gramps mistakenly identified Mercy as having the same previously). Whatever peoples' feelings about this I felt it was right for the story. Con tricks abound around Carmel – and people like Munroe and Gramps try to exploit her, but I never had any doubt in my mind that Carmel is the real deal. I did a fair bit of research into these sorts of groups and read some academic books on the subject. Documentaries were also very helpful. At the end of the day though it is not based on any one group or cult – hopefully these characters tell their own individual story. Lots of people have asked me about a sequel but there are no plans as yet. I'm working on something new.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:11:06


Every woman’s nightmare – one minute a child is by your side, the next minute has disappeared. A scenario familiar with many mothers, but luckily the child reappears within a short time. Not so in this story. Beth takes her 8 year old daughter, Carmel, to a festival and they become separated. With increasing panic she realises that she has completely disappeared.

The story is written from two points of view, the mother and child. Beth is overcome with grief and guilt and at first finds it difficult to carry on with her child’s loss always on her mind. Gradually she realises that the only way to cope is to set herself a challenge to try something new.

Carmel’s part of the story is written from an eight year old’s point of view. She is trusting and innocent and struggles to make sense of her new life. Physiological pressure is put on her until she believes there is no one who wants her, so she turns to her abductor for care. It is possible to start feeling annoyed with her for doing nothing to escape, then you look at her situation from a naïve child’s point of view and appreciate that she cannot know what to do. She is sad to realise that she must be nine, but there was no one to remember her birthday. She does have the determination to remember her name and where she comes from though.

It is written in a style which is very descriptive, e.g. Carmel’s hair is thick and curly and stands out like a spray of breaking glass, or a dandelion head. It is a pleasure to read, as well as having a compulsive “how will it end” aspect.

A question for Kate - Did the idea for the novel come from your creative writing course, or did the course help put an existing idea into words?

Hello granh1 – thank you! The creative writing course was helpful on many levels. I actually had the complete story and plot before I started but the value of it was threefold – firstly I think it helped me think about writing in a technical as well as emotional sense. Secondly it helped demystify that whole scary world of agents and publishers. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I started properly doing that nerve wracking thing of sharing my work with others. This was so positive because everybody on the course, teachers and students alike, were all passionate and totally serious about writing. I felt like I'd finally found my tribe!

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:13:30


Many thanks for the book which I have just finished. For me it started well but it tailed off in the middle. Too much was unexplained. For example how did they travel so far undiscovered? Why didn't Carmel talk more to outsiders when she had the opportunity? I also found the ending abrupt and unsatisfactory. Having said this it did make an interesting read, particularly the first half.

JillMay, I suppose I saw them as quite an isolated band of people – quite outside normal society and therefore more able to travel, move on and be partially hidden from everyday life. Carmel believes them as to the story they've fed her but I like to think her 'spider sense' knows that something is not quite right. That's why she tries to talk to the shop keeper who sells her a new red coat. It doesn't work though and Carmel can almost see the shop keeper shaking the fact that she's troubled somehow about Carmel out of her mind.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:18:59


Thank you for my copy of The Girl in the Red Coat. Like most others, it arrived rather late and I have just finished it.

I find I can agree with most of the other readers, which is strange in view of the mixture of opinions. I found it sagged half way through and nearly lost heart, but I kept on because it was a Gransnet book, and was pleased when it recovered its momentum. I found the two voices a little hard to distinguish, which in view of the age difference, was odd. The speaker was flagged by the heading of each chapter, which helped. I enjoyed it as a whole, and I was relieved that it did not venture into some of the potential dark areas that could have been explored.

I did not see this as a magical realist book, because healing is a phenomenon which exists. We may not understand how it works,
but it is real. There are even scientific tests of the effect of the power of prayer on people who do not know they are being prayed for!

I would like to ask Kate Hamer whether she has any experience of healing, either as the person receiving or giving it? If not, what made her choose this as the focus of the narrative?

Shinyredcar, I haven't had any direct, personal experience of healing beyond sensing that people can have a positive presence that can make others feel good. I chose it as central to the narrative because it's something that's always fascinated me. Whatever the truth of the matter the 'what if' question really intrigued me – what if, amongst all the charlatans and fakirs there was someone truly with an ability to heal. It's a theme that also interests me in its widest sense. I feel every character in the book – in whatever wrong headed or even terrible way they are doing it – is desperately trying to move themselves to a place of healing.

KateHamer Mon 11-Jan-16 10:22:28


Hard subject to write about but I'm finding it to be a page turner. I always wondered how an abducted child would feel and if they would shout it at anyone they came in contact with and how long their memory would last. I'm not quite finished it as I only received it a few days ago but thought I'd better give my opinion. I'd like to ask the author where her idea came from, was it from reports on other abducted children and does she have another book planned.

Thanks for your question annemac101. Perhaps slightly unusually I deliberately steered away from any news reports of similar cases, I made that decision very early on. I wanted it to be Beth and Carmel's story alone and it was also out of a kind of respect for families for who such a terrible thing has happened – it would've felt like intruding. The idea came from a central image I had – of a little girl, wearing a red coat and in the middle of a forest. I knew that she was lost – that's all I knew about her. When I came to writing the first chapter though it actually seemed to naturally come from Carmel's mum. The dual narrative started from that and the rest of the story flowed – very much a mother daughter story.