Historical Fiction: The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite by chance, thirty something book editor Edie Burchill discovers that her mother, twelve years old at the start of WWII, was evacuated to ancient Milderhurst Castle in Kent. Since her mom vehemently refuses to talk about it, Edie sets off to discover why. She travels to Milderhurst and arranges for a tour, where she meets the now elderly – and eccentric – Blythe sisters, daughters of famous author Raymond Blythe. A strong sense of deja vu overtakes her during her visit to the decaying edifice, and she reluctantly departs with more questions than answers. When a few weeks later Edie’s offered an opportunity to write the preface to a new edition of Blythe’s The True History of the Mudman, her favorite childhood novel, she eagerly accepts, and finds herself immersed in a tangled web of mystery.

Narrated from multiple viewpoints, The Distant Hours is an outstanding example of modern gothic fiction. It contains all the requisite elements, from spooky setting and enigmatic characters to madness, tragic accidents, and murky mysteries. Author Morton commendably restrains herself from going over the top, never sacrificing subtlety for blatant effect. This is prose that captivates. Slightly reminscent in style of duMaurier’s Rebecca, Hours is just as compulsively readable and memorable. The truth very gradually yields itself up to Edie’s relentless research, not to mention courage, with the biggest surprise – shocking yet wholly believable – withholding itself until the very end.

This is a writer who keeps getting better. On my list of top five reads of 2012.


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