Thursday, November 11, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night…

The Distant Hours
by Kate Morton

Okay, that infamous line is never used, but it might as well have been. There were plenty of dark and stormy nights in this deliciously atmospheric novel of suspense. Like Ms. Morton’s previous novels, this is a tale told in two times. The “contemporary” story is set in 1992, and events are set in motion by the delivery of a letter 51 years late. Protagonist Edie Burchill is visiting her parents when the letter arrives, and she witnesses her mother’s unexpected and unexplained emotional response to the missive.

Questioning her mother, Meredith, Edie learns for the first time that her mother was evacuated from London during WWII. For over a year, she lived in the country with the sisters Blythe and their elderly father at gothic Castle Middlehurst. Meredith is inexplicably reticent to discuss her past. This is merely one more example of the distance that Edie has always felt with her mother. Edie finds the incident odd, but it fades quickly into the past—until months later, lost on a road trip, she stumbles upon Castle Middlehurst and her curiosity is fiercely awakened. On a whim, Edie arranges a tour of the castle and discovers, among other things, that all three sisters are alive and in residence. After several introductory chapters setting up the story, the book moves back and forth between Edie’s answer-seeking in 1992, and chapters set during the actual events that occurred between 1939 and 1941, seen from the POV of several of the story’s participants.

There is so much more to the story told in this epic novel. The Blythes are a literary family, and patriarch Raymond is the author of the children’s classic The True History of the Mud Man that inspired Edie’s love of literature and eventual career in publishing. Ms. Morton is a brilliant story-teller and knows exactly how to torture her readers with questions. What was in the letter Meredith received half a century late? What was the true inspiration of the Mud Man? Why is the parlor door kept locked? What was in Raymond’s will? What really happened that night in 1941?

So many questions. And Morton teases us along for hundreds of pages, stringing along answers like breadcrumbs for readers to follow. Kate Morton is very, very good at what she does. Though, after three novels, the similarities in the types of stories she tells and the themes therein have become quite evident. She’s going to need to shake things up before she starts to recycle too much. But for now, The Distant Hours is hard to beat for good old-fashioned entertainment value. It literally brought chills and goose bumps to my skin time and time again. Savor it on a dark and stormy night!

P.S.: Post a comment within the next 30 hours to the giveaway post (below this post, not in the comments section right here) for a chance to win this book!


  1. I just finished reading this one myself and completely agree with your comments. I loved the gothic atmosphere. I actually thought it worked much better than House at Riverton, almost like she was practicing, but I do hope she can change it up a bit for her next book. The Distant Hours did certainly make for a wonderful read, though!

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed this. It's coming up on soon on my TBR pile.