review by Maryom
8 year old Carmel and her divorced mother Beth form a tiny insular family; contact with Carmel's father is infrequent and erratic, and her mother and grandparents quarrelled long ago so Carmel never sees them. Being only the two of them makes Beth more watchful and careful than other mothers might be but Carmel is getting a little tired of this; she thinks she's old enough to be able to do things on her own with no need to constantly be holding her mum's hand like a small child. So in the crowds at a children's story-telling festival she takes the opportunity to slip away and hide under a table...... Engrossed in books and her imagination, Carmel loses track of time and when
she eventually crawls back out her mum is nowhere to be seen. Then she's approached by an elderly man who claims to be her grandfather, come with the awful news that her mum has had an accident and been taken to hospital, and that for now Carmel should could home with him. Carmel is confused and upset, but something in the man's appearance makes her trust him, so she goes along without any fuss.....
Meanwhile Beth is beside herself with worry. People are leaving, the festival grounds emptying and there is still no sign of Carmel. Panic rising, the organisers call in the police and Beth has to admit the dreadful fact that despite all her best efforts, Carmel has disappeared.
The Girl In The Red Coat taps into every parent's nightmare that one day their child will go missing. Unusually it doesn't follow the police investigation, with either the following up of a tenuous thread of clues that lead to a happy resolution, or the more chilling story-line that ends tragically in the hands of a serial-killer. Instead, the reader follows Carmel and Beth as in very different circumstances they try to adapt to their new lives. Told as it is in the first person from their alternating perspectives, the reader is there sharing the emotions of Beth and Carmel - the guilt and frantic searching of one, the bewilderment of the other.
Carmel of course is unaware that she's been abducted - she firmly believes that this man is her grandfather and that what she's been told about her mother's accident is true. So Carmel tries to adjust, to fit in with her new family and their plans for her. It was hinted at earlier but it now becomes apparent that Carmel is believed to have a special gift, and this is why she was taken. Her 'grandfather' has great plans for her, mainly of the sort that will involve his financial gain, and Carmel is bullied and manipulated into going along with them.
Meanwhile back home in Norfolk, her mum Beth tries to put her life back together. Never losing track of the number of days since Carmel went missing, never giving up hope, she searches frantically anywhere and everywhere, but gradually as the years pass, she makes peace with herself and starts to move on.
Although a crime has been committed this isn't so much the story of that crime but more one of how those involved cope afterwards, rather in the way that Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You or Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley show families coping with tragedy. Here though there's still the hope that somehow, maybe, just maybe, Carmel and Beth can be re-united - and it's that flicker of hope that pulled me in, desperately wanting to know that all would turn out right in the end. Does it? well, read it and find out.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Faber and Faber
Genre -adult fiction, debut, crime,