Her dress was incredible, the sort you expect to see in films about wealthy debutantes before the war, or hidden on the racks of up-market charity shops. It was organza, the palest of pink, or it had been once, before time and grime had got busy, laying their fingers all over it. Sheets of tulle supported the full skirt, pushing it out as it fell away from her tiny waist, wide enough for the netted hemline to rustle against the walls when she moved.
I'll start with the blurb from The Book Depository:
From the international bestselling author of "The House at Riverton" (or The Shifting Fog) and "The Forgotten Garden" comes a brand new tale of love, mystery, betrayal and dark secrets...
Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Millderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother's emotional distance masks an old secret.
Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie's mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond.
In the grand and glorious Millderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie's mother. She discovers the joy of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers.
Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother's riddle, she, too, is drawn to Millderhurst Castle and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiance in 1941 plunged her into madness.
Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother's past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Millderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it...
This book will lead to sleep deprivation. You will find yourself totally engrossed in The Distant Hours! I've loved reading both of Kate Morton's previous novels, The Shifting Fog (The House at Riverton) and The Forgotten Garden, so I knew what to expect and I wasn't disappointed. I was hooked from the Prologue which is a deliciously descriptive excerpt from The Mud Man:
"It is moonless. It is moonless when the Mud Man comes. The night has slipped on a pair of fine, leather gloves, shaken a black sheet across the land: a ruse, a disguise, a sleeping spell, so that all beneath it slumbers sweet."
By the time an author releases a third novel, I'm prepared to be disappointed, as often, like a film sequel, it disappoints. However, "The Distant Hours" was everything that I had hoped it would be...and more! It had all the elements that make a great mystery: a gothic castle, family secrets, a literary mystery, and tragic love.
It is long (500 pages.) Some may find this a little off-putting...but I enjoyed every second of it because Kate Morton's prose has gone up a notch, it is descriptive and brings her characters and Milderhurst Castle to life:
We stood facing one another across the dulled corridor for what felt like a very long time. Finally, she moved. Slightly. Her arms had been hanging by her sides, resting on her skirt, and she lifted one a little, leading from the palm, a graceful movement as if an unseen thread stitched to her inner wrist had been plucked from the ceiling behind me.
The "book within the book" in the form of Raymond Blythe's The True History of the Mud Man is done so well. I want to read The True History of the Mud Man now! Morton should totally publish it ;-) But one of the things that Morton does in The Distant Hours is celebrate the written word. I love what she says about librarians: "it's the librarian's sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader".
I'm not a librarian, but I love the sentiment - as I love this book. Grab it. You'll be sorry if you don't.
'And then we're going to dance, dance, dance..."
(All quotes from pp. 71 - 75.)