(C) 2011 Amy Goodfellow Wagner The Distant Hours: A Novel
By Kate Morton
$26.00 Hardcover ($14.80 at amazon.com; $12.99 as a Kindle book)
If you’re a fan of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, you’ll fall for The Distant Hours, the latest offering from Kate Morton, the bestselling author of The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. This suspenseful Gothic thriller has it all: an unwilling heroine; a crumbling castle; a trio of elderly, eccentric sisters; a spot of madness; Bronte-inspired fires; plenty of sturm und drang and more than one mystery.
Edie Burchill is a young woman who is working in publishing while her life is falling apart. Her live-in lover has left her and her relationship with her parents is tenuous at best. The fifty-years-late arrival of a letter to her mother is the catalyst that prompts Edie to unravel her mother’s secrets surrounding her experiences as a young World War II evacuee at Milderhurst Castle, ancestral home of the literary Blythe family.
For the most part, Morton seamlessly interweaves the threads of several intricate plots and subplots into a tale of “ancient walls that sing the distant hours” that reaches from 1992 back to the war years. Edie is captivated by the secrets of Percy, Saffy and Juniper Blythe, the three daughters of Raymond Blythe, author of The True Tale of the Mud Man, an immensely popular horror story that turned young Edie into a book lover. The real world — in the form of Edie’s mother Meredith — penetrates the ancient, cloistered walls of 1940s Milderhurst Castle with results that will reverberate for the next fifty years.
The heart of the book is both a love story and mystery: why did Tom Cavill, fiance of Juniper and erstwhile teacher of Meredith, fail to appear at the castle to meet Juniper’s older twin sisters? More than half a century later, Edie meets a sadly unbalanced Juniper. Like the heroine of any fairy tale worth its salt, Juniper is still waiting for her lover to claim her and release her from her castle’s spell.
While the many alternating stories and timelines were a bit cumbersome for my taste, Morton does gain control of her complex plot to deliver a satisfying and truly surprising conclusion. A gifted writer, Morton has a rare abillity to make mundane descriptions sing: A pine table balances on “pregnant ankles.” A closet shelf is “full of different handbags jostling together, awaiting promotion to complete the day’s outfit.” Such careful observations make the journey back to those distant hours all the more rewarding.
The Distant Hours offers fans of the genre pleasurable hours of romantic suspense.
The Distant Hours is available at amazon.com and at bookstores everywhere.