The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I find myself wondering what is most important for a ghost story – the fear or the story itself. They should really go hand in hand but is it really a ghost story without any fright? The Greatcoat has a great story, it lingers on the bizarre and wonderfully extraordinary but I have to say I didn’t once feel scared, apprehensive, horrified or rattled by the tale. There aren’t any synonyms for scared that I felt nor thought. And yet, it still kept me in its grip due to an interesting story that borders more on mysterious than spooky.

This is a little disappointing as this is the first jaunt between Random House and Hammer and I was hoping that the partnership would start with a bang. Instead the plot doesn’t do the Hammer name justice.

It’s the summer of 1945 and Isabel Carey and her Doctor husband have moved to a sleepy Yorkshire town in order for him to take a job at a local surgery. They move into a cold and damp flat with a suspicious landlady who drives Isabel mad with her constant pacing on the floor above. Isabel feels out of place and loneliness sets in. One night, while bitterly cold, Isabel looks for extra blankets in a cupboard and finds an RAF greatcoat to snuggle under. Only when she puts it on there is a sudden tapping at the window.

It all sounds rather scary and you would expect plenty of chilling moments whenever the greatcoat is nearby. However, Isabel approaches the window and finds an RAF soldier there who just looks at her. He returns the next night and places his hand on the window. After a few nights like this he enters the flat. What next transpires steals away any suspense built as they have a conversation.

Now, I don’t want to say anymore because I still believe that people should read this book, mainly because support of this will see plenty more Hammer collaborations, also because what occurs next is genuinely interesting. We begin to see Isabel take on a new life – one that revolves around this RAF soldier. Her isolation drives her mind to take on new thoughts that are out of character and we begin to see two lives blur together.

The book suffers from its length, too. It’s too long to sustain the story and keep it interesting. The opening is great and sets the scene that will soon play out. We find that Isabel is insecure and her traits paint her as the perfect ghost story protagonist. And, the end third contains lots of mystery and intriguing twists that drive forward the narrative. But, the middle is just filler. The Greatcoat would have worked far better as a novella of 120 pages and would hit with more impact.

Regardless it’s a quick read, I finished it in a day and the ending is plenty satisfying. I certainly expected more from the novel but will be waiting eagerly for the next Hammer book. Isabel’s story is interesting but don’t envisage a night of hiding the book in the freezer.

Published by Hammer. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.


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