I always enjoy Kate Morton’s books and her latest endeavor, The Distant Hours, did not disappoint. The Distant Hours is an entertaining, genteel mystery that unfolds in a stately manner and focuses on two time periods: 1992 and the 1940s. The book has many of the elements that make this kind of genre so enjoyable: snippets from made-up books, journal entries, multiple narrators, and a literary mystery.
At times, the overtones from the gothic novels that main narrator Edie reads tend to overwhelm – it’s hard not to think of similar events in Northanger Abbey or Jane Eyre in the last sections of the book – but that’s made up for by a final twist in the plot that I, for one, didn’t see coming. There are some earlier plot twists that seem apparent right away, but waiting for the final piece of the puzzle is a simultaneously drawn out and rewarding process. Deliciously, the reader is pretty much the only one left with the absolute final truth.
The major narrator is sympathetic and self-effacing, just as the main narrator for such a convoluted story needs to be. Edie is more interested in the lives of the other characters than in her own. The three sisters that Edie meets (Saffy, Percy, and Juniper), are each sad and disappointed in their own ways, and they’re all living, in a sense, in the past. Each has the motivation for a terrible act, while each has a sad lost love and a past containing a romance that couldn’t be.
If anything, I wish that the imagined book about the “Mud Man” that’s so essential to these characters’ story would have showed up more. We get a tantalizing glimpse of the pulpy gothic tale at the beginning, but have to fill most of it in with our imaginations. More snippets from it would have made this book an even more interesting literary mystery.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Washington Square Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.