As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Faber & Faber, 5 March 2015. ISBN: 978-0-571-31324-2 (HB)
Crime fiction doesn’t always have to place murder at the centre of the
mystery, and in Kate Hamer’s impressive debut the crime is abduction.
Hamer interweaves two
stories, both in the first person, each with a distinct and distinctive voice:
Carmel, snatched from a crowded festival tent at eight years old, and whisked
off to America by an religious nut who claims, or pretends, to be her estranged
grandfather; and Beth, Carmel’s single mother, left behind to search
desperately for her missing daughter, and try to rebuild her life without ever
losing hope even when the search is fruitless.
Like all the best fiction,
the book is about the characters rather than the crime, although in the early
days after Carmel’s disappearance the necessary police procedure takes place,
albeit to no avail.
Beth’s story is
heart-wrenching, especially to anyone who has been the mother of a small child,
but Carmel’s is the richer of the two, packed with detail about the itinerant
life she leads with her so-called grandfather (it is plain from the outset that
he is nothing of the kind) and the quasi-family of Mexicans he has built.
Carmel, it turns out, has a special gift: the ability to heal illness and
disability through the laying on of hands. This, of course, makes her a
precious commodity, and how she deals with it, a key strand in the narrative,
is handled matter-of-factly and is not at all laboured. Whether or not the
concept is something the reader believes, in this context it feels quite
The narrative is peopled with
a large and colourful cast of characters, each distinct and rounded, from the
leading players right down to the burger bar server and relief family liaison
Carmel herself is intelligent
and feisty, observant and articulate beyond her years. Though she doesn’t
question the story her ‘Gramps’ spins to gain her trust, she nurtures her
memories of her old life and never quite abandons it. Beth is damaged, by the
past as well as the present, and we see her growing stronger through the
laborious process of building protective emotional scar tissue around the
gaping wound of losing her daughter.
The jury is still out on
whether it really qualifies as a crime novel, but one thing is certain: this is
quality fiction. The writing is imaginative, almost poetic in places, but never
to the extent that it distracts from the story; the characters have the ring of
truth; the locations are vivid, sensuous and evocative. And the story grips;
from the outset I ached to know what would happen to Carmel, whether she would
be reunited with her mother – and above all, I wanted to know what happened
after the book ended.
On this showing, Kate Hamer
will go far as a novelist.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Kate Hamergrew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing
MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing
course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story
was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales
bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen,
and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but
never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher
for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now
burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with
books, about half of them crime fiction.