The Distant Hours is a multigenerational puzzle complete with a decaying castle, hidden manuscripts and not one but two families with secrets. Readers familiar with the novels of Kate Morton will recognize her distinctive way of weaving disparate elements together to create an intriguing tale, as well as the delicious way she tips her hat to previous novels that feature great English houses with something to hide, such as Rebecca, The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre.
The Distant Hours opens with a 50-year-old lost letter arriving in the mail addressed to Edie Burchill’s mother, Meredith. The contents of the letter reveal that during WWII, Meredith had been billeted to Milderhurst Castle in Kent, a fact of which her husband and daughter knew nothing. Milderhurst was the home of the great writer Ronald Blythe, whose modern fairy tale brought the Blythes acclaim and fortune. Meredith was taken in by Ronald’s twin daughters Persephone and Seraphina, and became friends with their younger sister, Juniper.
Though Edie and her mother have never been close, Edie is compelled to uncover this seminal event in her mother’s life. She journeys to the decrepit Milderhurst, where the elderly Blythes still live, the twins caring for the mentally unstable Juniper. Edie is attracted and repelled by their circumstances and is soon drawn into the many mysteries that surround them. Why haven’t the sisters ever left the castle? Was Ronald Blythe’s masterpiece a plagiarism? Most intriguing is what happened on the night Juniper’s fiancé jilted her. Did he really elope with another woman or did he just disappear? The further Edie delves, the more riddles arise and the more deeply readers are pulled into the story.
The Distant Hours contains rapid shifts of point of view and moves back and forth over a half century. This can be tricky to get right, and though in earlier books Morton has proved herself skilled at this kind of plotting, she stumbles a few times here, caught in the complex web she has spun.
Even so, Morton is the master of the atmospheric old-fashioned novel packed with enough stories to fill all the worn satchels in the Milderhurst attic. The Distant Hours is saturated with the sights and sounds of country life during wartime, Blitz-torn London and the ghostly passageways of the decaying castle. Fans of Morton and new readers alike will be delighted to uncover the truth of what happened in the “distant hours” of the past.