The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic . . . . I think about it sometimes, that mailbag: of the hundreds of love letters, grocery bills, birthday cards, notes from children to their parents, that lay together, swelling and sighing as their thwarted messages whispered in the dark. Waiting, waiting, for someone to realize they were there. For it is said, you know, that a letter will always seek a reader; that sooner or later, like it or not, words have a way of finding the light, of making their secrets known.
That first paragraph sets the stage nicely for what is to follow in The Distant Hours, a modern Gothic novel. Edie (the main character) is at home when her mother receives one of the long-lost letters. Her mother’s strange reaction to the letter puts Edie on the trail of a mystery that leads her to a decaying castle in Kent and the three old spinsters who live there.
It’s a good thing I bought this book on a whim and did not read the online reviews first. I am quite sure that the negative reviews (of which I later found many) would have turned me off. Usually online reviews work against me by convincing me to buy awful books. It never occurred to me that they could work against me the opposite way! But they certainly did. I postponed reading this book because I thought it was going to be terrible.
It wasn’t even close to terrible. Yes, the book is long (560 pages). Yes, the author does occasionally go into too much detail. Yes, the narrative goes back and forth between times and places and points of view, and some of it is told in the first person and some in the third person. So what? A quick look at the date at the top of each chapter lets you know when the action is taking place, and within a few sentences you know whose point of view you’re reading. It’s not that hard to follow.
In my opinion, Morton handled every element competently. The mystery was interesting, neither so convoluted that you couldn’t guess at the answers nor so obvious that you got bored. The pacing was good. I liked the characters and I was intrigued by their stories. I almost couldn’t put the book down.
In short, The Distant Hours is one of the best new books I’ve read lately.