The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton.
As I walked up the hill, closer and closer, I could almost feel the air changing around me, as if I were crossing an invisible barrier into another world. Sane people do not speak of houses having forces, of enchanting people, of drawing them closer. But I came to believe that week, as I still do now, that there was some indescribable force at work, deep within Milderhurst Castle. I'd felt it on my first visit, and I felt it again that afternoon. A sort of beckoning, as if the castle itself was calling to me. - from The Distant Hours -
Edie Burchill lives in London and works for a publisher. One day while visiting her parents a lost letter arrives for her mother -- a letter mailed 50 years before, but just now finding its intended reader. Meredith Burchill's reaction to the letter is surprising, and Edie becomes convinced there is something in her mother's past that must be uncovered, something that involves a crumbling old castle and the three elderly sisters who still live there. Edie's search to understand her mother brings her to Milderhurst Castle where she meets the Blythe sisters: the surly and secretive Percy, the sweet Saffy, and the mentally unstable and damaged Juniper. The castle at first holds onto its secrets despite the tortured voices within its walls. But as the novel unfolds the mystery is revealed.
I shivered, overcome by a sudden and pressing image of the castle as a giant, crouching creature. A dark and nameless beast, holding its breath; the big, old toad of a fairy tale waiting to trick a maiden into kissing him. I was thinking of the Mud Man, of course, the Stygian slippery figure emerging from the lake to claim the girl in the attic window. - from The Distant Hours -
The Distant Hours is a magnificent, moody, Gothic novel. Kate Morton structures the novel to take the reader back and forth from 1992 (Edie's time) to the years of World War II when the Blythe sisters and Meredith were young women. There is a novel, written by Raymond Blythe (the sisters' reclusive father), that is laced through the story -- a creepy, and engaging story of a Mud Man who climbs the walls of the castle to steal a young girl; and there is of course, the castle itself -- a mouldering, eerie place that harbors strange voices and sounds within its walls. There is love, betrayal, and a mystery -- all the elements that make a Gothic novel's pages turn almost on their own. And there is Morton's writing which is flawless and engaging. She carefully constructs her story, unwrapping the layers of her characters like peeling an onion, giving us glimpses of who they might be, and then surprising us with what they are hiding.
The Distant Hours is a thick, delicious book of almost 700 pages. I was engaged in the story from the start and my interest never waned. In fact, the last 200 pages practically turned themselves as I read furiously to discover the secrets of the castle and its inhabitants. I have come to recognize Morton as a talented author who knows how to craft a story of intrigue filled with fascinating characters. I can't wait to discover her next book.
Readers who love Gothic literature, creepy tales, wonderful characters, and effortless writing will love The Distant Hours.
Five stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".
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