I was hoping that The Distant Hours, Kate Morton’s third book would be as good as the first,The House at Riverton, which I loved. I’ve read her second book The Forgotten Garden, which disappointed me, because it was predictable and I thought it was a re-working of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, The Secret Garden. However, I think The Distant Hours is the least satisfying, which is a shame as it promised to be so good at the beginning and the story itself is fascinating …
A dilapidated castle, aristocratic twins, a troubled sister and a series of dark secrets cast a whispery spell … (from the back cover)
It begins with a creepy tale, The True History of the Mud Man, a children’s story written by Raymond Blythe, the owner of the castle. It begins:
Hush – Can you hear him?
The trees can. They are the first to know that he is coming.
Listen! The trees of the deep, dark wood, shivering and jittering their leaves like papery hulls of beaten silver; the sly wind, snaking through their tops, whispering that it will soon begin.
The trees know, for they are old and have seen it all before.
A tale which haunts the book. The dark secrets begin to surface when Edie Burchill’s mother receives a long-lost letter written fifty years earlier from one of the sisters at Milderhust Castle. Edie is intrigued but her mother is reluctant to talk about it and about the time that she was an evacuee at the castle during the war.
The story slips backwards and forwards in time between the 1990s and the Second World War and the characters and the descriptions of the settings are fine – up to a point. But the book moves at a snail’s pace over its 670 pages. There is just too much unnecessary detail, about things on the periphery that never go anywhere. There is so much that it stifles the narrative and the heartaches, betrayals and tragedies become a catalogue of events. I just wasn’t involved. But this is still an enjoyable book, if over long and not as good as her earlier books.