Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: "The Distant Hours" by Kate Morton

I loved this book up until the last few pages. The language is beautiful: the mind's ear can almost hear the crisp consonants of the British narrator. The narrative descriptions are lyrical and vivid.

The dynamics between and among the characters are too complex to begin to describe. Think of almost every imaginable kind of dysfunctional parent-child and sibling relationship and then add a few you never thought of. That would account for most of them. The poignancy of the relationships grows out of the efforts of such damaged people to love others despite their own inadequacies.

The main character is an editor for a small publisher in London. She works in publishing because she loves books. Her love of books was born when she was a child with the mumps and her mother gave her a novel. Reading it set her on the course of being a bibliophile, which ultimately led to working in publishing. The author of the book became an iconic figure in her life.

In 1992 her mother receives a letter that has been stashed away in a lost mailbag for fifty years. The letter is from a woman in the family where the mother stayed during WWII when she was evacuated from London with thousands of other children during the Blitz. Her mother tells Edie for the first time about her evacuation to the home of the author of Edie's favorite novel.

While on a business trip, Edie passes the estate and stops. She arranges to take a tour. After that, things take off. The three sisters who live in the house exceed "normal" British eccentricity: they are all three totally crazy, although in different ways. Edie is caught up in a web of secrecy and lies, eventually uncovering two murders. In the process she heals most of the rifts between her and her parents.

It is beautifully written and a truly engrossing story. It gets a little tousled at the end when she starts pulling in all the strands of the story to tie up all the loose ends (of which there are a lot), but she manages to pull it all together.

I picked it up at the library before a week long cold snap that has kept me bundled up under the covers. That's a perfect atmosphere for reading murder mysteries set in the British countryside. I'll definitely read more by this author.

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