”It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls. The truth of what happened in “the distant hours” has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. In this enthralling romantic thriller, Morton pays homage to the classics of Gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.”
Thoughts: In previous novels, Kate Morton flashes back to the Roaring 20s, when big estates were still fairly numerous and the families prestigious. In The Distant Hours, Ms. Morton advances a few decades with the primary flashbacks occurring during World War II and the Blitz. Her heroine this time around is feisty Edie, a book publisher at a personal crossroads. The arrival of a long-delayed letter, and more specifically, her mother’s reaction to it, sets the stage for a journey she never expects to take, involving people she never knew existed, and resulting in an ending that is better suited for fiction than real life. The Distant Hours takes readers through the English countryside, back to one of the more terrifying decades in English history when the horrors of war were the backdrop for romance and intrigue and the final years of the big family estates, exploring love, loss, and the dangerous nature of secrets.
Edie is an absolutely delightful heroine. Her issues with her mother are heartbreakingly real, and her awkwardness is endearing. Edie is one of the few characters Ms. Morton wrote that feels natural, as if she really is the girl down the street. Her work within the publishing industry as well as her love of books makes her that much more appealing. Meanwhile, her fascination with Milderhurst Castle and learning more about her mother’s past is addicting and completely understandable. All of Ms. Morton’s heroines have been memorable, but there is a special spark within Edie that strengthens the entire story and makes it that much more engrossing.
The Gothic element is something new, or at least more firmly established in The Distant Hours, and is something Ms. Morton should continue to explore. Milderhurst really becomes a character in its own right. Deliciously dilapidated and casting a pall on everyone who encounters it, there is no doubt as to the reasons for the ongoing fascination with the castle itself as well as the family who owns it. Ms. Morton perfectly captures the voyeuristic glee and horror that occurs at the decay of such familial behemoths. Similarly, the mysterious past of the Blythe girls, June’s sudden decline, and Edie’s connection to Milderhurst and the Blythe family is appropriately spooky and tragic. The pacing of the entire novel, a key element of any Gothic novel, is perfect. The plot twists help engage a reader while preventing the ending from being anything but a surprise, and this is one ending where having it as a surprise is half the enjoyment.
The Distant Hours may just be Ms. Morton’s best book to date. Her writing shows a continuing maturity that adds depth to her characters and even greater detail to her settings. The transitions between past and present are absolutely seamless, and both settings are beautifully executed. Her prose, always wonderful, has poetic elements that enhance her descriptions and make them so wonderful to enjoy. In addition, Edie has a vibrancy to her that makes her refreshingly realistic and fun. If someone is looking to finally get around to reading a novel by Ms. Morton, The Distant Hours is the perfect selection, as it brilliantly showcases her talent for historical, Gothic fiction.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Atria Books for my review copy!