Of England, History, and Mysteries

After having her books recommended to me by several people, I recently read devoured three of Kate Morton’s novels.  Sometimes I like to spread out books by one author, but often I find that it’s interesting to read several close together (if I liked the first one) to get a sense of the author’s style and improvement.

Kate Morton’s books don’t feel like retellings of the same story (I hate it when you realize an author is recycling the same plots over and over again) but they do have several points in common:

  • Her settings are primarily in England, with secondary storylines in Australia.

  • The themes involve relationships between mothers and daughters, or sisters, or other generational interactions (richly explored and always well done – I really like this theme).

  • The stories involve mysteries, usually stumbled upon and launching children into quests to find out more about their parents or grandparents.  As you read the progression of Morton’s books, you’ll see how she gets better and better at crafting mysteries and making them difficult to figure out until the end.

  • The stories are told through alternating glimpses of the past (historical settings such as London during the Blitz, English country houses transitioning from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, etc) with action in modern day.  Morton has developed as a writer in her ability to do this well and seamlessly.

Since it turned out to be my favorite so far, I’m glad that The Distant Hours is the first book of Morton’s that I found.

As her second most recent novel, The Distant Hours is well-structured, well-researched, and informative, as well as boasting memorable characters and a surprisingly well-developed mystery that I didn’t completely figure out until I read the very end of the book.

The story follows a modern day publisher trying to connect with her mother by learning more about where her mother was evacuated during the Blitz.  After stumbling on the castle where her mother spent World War II, Edie finds herself caught up in the story of the reclusive and eccentric sisters, now old women, who live in the castle, and the history and mysteries associated with their family and the house.  Along the way readers find out more about literature and changing social and historical situations in England from the late 19th century through the present day.

The Distant Hours reminds me of The Little Stranger, but with a far, far better ending.  The twists in this novel are remarkably well-done and the ending is satisfying without seeming too easy.   If you’re a fan of mysteries, you would almost certainly like this book.  However, even if you aren’t really into mysteries, the historical aspects and character development would also make it well worth your time.

I followed up The Distant Hours with one of Morton’s previous works, The Forgotten Garden.  It’s always interesting to read books from earlier in an author’s career, to see how they have developed and improved.

I thought the story and characters in The Forgotten Garden were great, but the mystery wasn’t as well crafted as in her later book.

In this story, the main character tries to solve the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s origins, and finds a better sense of her own identity in the process.  Although the main character and grandmother live in Australia, the mystery and investigation portions happen in England at a large country house turned bed-and-breakfast.

While the mystery was not very satisfying, I really enjoyed the setting and historical information, as well as the method of alternating story lines and character development, so I would still recommend The Forgotten Garden.

Finally, I circled back around to Morton’s most recent book, The Secret Keeper.  The book features well-conceived sibling relationships, as well as the mother-child relationship based on a mystery.  As in The Forgotten GardenThe Secret Keeper weaves around a mystery that I didn’t figure out completely until the end of the book.  The historical story follows a group of young people in the lead up to World War II, and then focuses on London during the Blitz.  In the modern story, the oldest sister and youngest brother of a family scramble to unravel a mystery that has bothered them since they were children, but which develops urgency when their mother is near death.

Although I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did The Forgotten GardenThe Secret Keeper was also a well-written  and I’d recommend it.

If you like mysteries, I think you’d enjoy Morton’s books.  However, even if mysteries aren’t your thing, the character development, stories, and history in her books make them well worth your time.  I’d highly recommend Morton’s novels, and am looking forward to reading more!


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9 thoughts on “Of England, History, and Mysteries

  1. I’ve been hearing a lot about Morton’s books. So glad to get another recommendation. Now to get out there and find and read these books.

  2. I really enjoyed The Forgotten Garden (I think my Nook recommended it after I read Roses by Leila Meachem) so am glad to read your reviews of the other books. It took me a bit to get into it, but perhaps only because it started a bit more slowly than Roses.

  3. PS. I generally like the mystery portion of the books more than the historical aspects (as you probably well know), so really looking forward to reading The Distant Hours!

  4. You know I loved The Distant hours and The Secret Keeper! Thanks for sharing them with me while you had them checked out. They filled my evening hours when I was at your house!

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