By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Kate Hamer
Narrated by: Antonia Beamish
Faith offers strength and weakness. “The Girl in the Red Coat” is a fictional story of an eight-year-old girl’s abduction that illustrates faith’s promise and illusion. There is the promise of inner fortitude and the illusion of desired results. Many people are strengthened by faith. At the same time, faith can turn into bitter disappointment.
Child abduction is many parent’s worst nightmare. Kate Hamer makes that nightmare real in “The Girl in the Red Coat”. As an eight-year-old, Carmel Wakeford tests the limits of her independence by wandering away from her mother’s view; i.e. a common experience of parents with young children.
Carmel Wakeford is abducted. Carmel’s mother feels guilty for the abduction because of her momentary loss of attention. A reader/listener thinks about how many times their child is out of their sight and wonders if the same might happen to them. Hamer heightens the terror of her story with characterization of a single mother who dotes on her child.
Most children test their limits as they grow into adults. In this one instance, Carmel is away from her mother in an English village when an older man approaches to say that her mother has been in an accident. The older man introduces himself as the girl’s grandfather. He explains they should go to the hospital where her mother is being taken.
One of Hamer’s primary characters is a single mother that is divorced. Because the character is divorced, there is a suspension of disbelief when an older man says he is Carmel’s grandfather. He could have been Carmel’s grandfather without Carmel knowing or remembering him. Carmel believes the grandfather’ story and accompanies the old man. Hamer somewhat tempers the terror as the kidnapper’s motive is slowly revealed.
One of the two major themes in Hamer’s book is about faith healing and itinerant preachers that take money from the public for the hope of curing human disease, physical deformity, or mental dysfunction. Hamer seems to walk a fine line between believing and not believing in the practice. Depending on a reader/listener’s predilection, this theme is either being seriously considered by the author or seen as an exposure of demented preachers and greedy charlatans.
One of Hamer’s themes is the mental consequence of a kidnapping. The local police diligently pursue the case but it lingers for days, months, and finally 5 years. The back story for Carmel’s mother is that she married her, now divorced, husband over the objections of her family. She becomes reconciled with her parents and seems to forgive her husband for leaving her. She becomes friends with her husband’s new wife. However, in the process of coping with guilt, Carmel’s mother attempts to kill herself.
“The Girl in the Red Coat” is well written but loses some of its power, in its second theme, by leaving belief in faith healing unmoored; i.e. discounted by many failures, while tied by a slender thread of belief. It is a disconcerting story that strikes fear in the hearts of parents who love their children. The complex emotion of a mother in distress is well told. It is a mystery/thriller that draws its audience into the dark world of faith healing.