The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours

3.8 538
by Kate Morton, Caroline Lee

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A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest

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A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

Morton once again enthralls listeners with an atmospheric story featuring unforgettable characters beset by love and circumstance and haunted by memory, that reminds us of the rich power of storytelling.

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Editorial Reviews

Bethanne Patrick
The Distant Hours demonstrates a new leap in Morton's authorial choreography…its multiple story lines intersect in a satisfying conclusion that will leave no reader feeling cheated…a rich treat for fans of historical fiction.
—The Washington Post

This long-awaited novel by the author of The House at Riverton begins with a long lost letter. Its contents compel young Edie Burchill to journey to the eerie realm of Millderhurst Castle, where her mother, then just 13 years old, waited out the London Blitz. What Edie learns about those distant hours in that faraway place will forever change her view of her mother and herself. A subtle, artfully constructed story about place, the past, and time's reverberations.

Publishers Weekly
A letter posted in 1941 finally reaches its destination in 1992 with powerful repercussions for Edie Burchill, a London book editor, in this enthralling romantic thriller from Australian author Morton (The Forgotten Garden). At crumbling Milderhurst Castle live elderly twins Persephone and Seraphina and their younger half-sister, Juniper, the three eccentric spinster daughters of the late Raymond Blythe, author of The True History of the Mud Man, a children's classic Edie adores. Juniper addressed the letter to Meredith, Edie's mother, then a young teen evacuated to Milderhurst during the Blitz. Edie, who's later invited to write an introduction to a reprint of Raymond's masterpiece, visits the seedily alluring castle in search of answers. Why was her mother so shattered by the contents of a letter sent 51 years earlier? And what happened to soldier Thomas Cavill, Juniper's long-missing fiancé and Meredith's former teacher? Despite the many competing narratives, the answers will stun readers. 5-city author tour. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“A nuanced exploration of family secrets and betrayal . . . captivating.” —People (****)

“A new leap in Morton’s authorial choreography. . . . A rich treat for fans of historical fiction.” —The Washington Post

“A spellbinding journey, a mystery whose well-paced revelations provide a surprising and deeply satisfying read.” —Booklist

“A fresh and thrilling gothic mystery. . . . Layers of deliciously surprising secrets.”
Library Journal

People Magazine****
“A nuanced exploration of family secrets and betrayal . . . captivating.” —People (****)
The Washington Post
“A new leap in Morton’s authorial choreography. . . . A rich treat for fans of historical fiction.” —The Washington Post
“A spellbinding journey, a mystery whose well-paced revelations provide a surprising and deeply satisfying read.” —Booklist
Library Journal
Australian author Morton's ( third novel, following the international best seller The Forgotten Garden (2009)—also available from Bolinda Audio and read by actress Caroline Lee—is another intergenerational story, this one centering on two families: the Blythes of Milderhurst Castle and the Burchills, from working-class London. While researching a children's novel, Edie Burchill is led to the idiosyncratic Blythe sisters, now quite elderly, who had resided at Milderhurst when her mother, Meredith, was sent there to escape the blitz during World War II. A subplot involving the disappearance of Meredith's teacher as he was about to report for duty adds romantic intrigue. Lee tries, mostly successfully, to differentiate between the Blythes' aristocratic manner of speech and the lower-class dialect of the Burchills. Recommended where Jane Eyre is popular. [See Major Audio Releases, LJ 10/15/10; the Atria: S. & S. hc received a starred review, LJ 11/1/10; the Washington Square pb will publish in July 2011.—Ed.]—Sandy Glover, Camas P.L., WA
Kirkus Reviews

A letter points the way to a castle in Kent, which harbors decades of grim secrets, in Morton's latest (The House at Riverton, 2008, etc.).

Edie, a young woman underemployed by a London small press, is puzzled when her normally placid mother Meredith receives a long-delayed letter and bursts into tears. The letter, it turns out,is from Juniper, one of the three Blythe sisters who inhabit Milderhurst Castle, where Meredith, as a child during World War II, was evacuated to escape the Blitz. From here the story ricochets between the war years and the early 1990s. The evacuation proves to be an unexpected blessing for Meredith, a shy, bookish girl who's misunderstood by her working-class family. Her teacher, Thomas Cavill, encourages her to excel in her studies. She finds true kinship with the three daughters of Raymond Blythe, famed author of a children's classic entitledThe True History of the Mud Man. Raymond, demented and delusional, has secluded himself in his tower room. Much to the chagrin of his eldest daughter Percy, Raymond has evinced an intention to disinherit his daughters. Second sister Saffy schemes to escape the castle for London. Percy is alarmed when Lucy, Milderhurst's last remaining servant, deserts the family for marriage to their clock repairman—Percy's secret crush? Baby sister Juniper meets Thomas when he arrives to check on Meredith. After a whirlwind London love affair, Juniper defies Percy to announce wedding plans. Thrilled, Saffy makes Juniper a party dress and plans an engagement dinner. Juniper and Thomas are due from London by separate trains, but only Juniper shows up. Like Dickens' Miss Havisham, Juniper will grow old, still wearing the tatters of the dress she donned for the fiancé who got away. As Edie plumbs Milderhurst's many mysteries, she also struggles to learn what short-circuited her mother's dreams, so briefly kindled 50 years before.

After a lengthy buildup, which doggedly connects all the characters, however peripheral, there's a rewarding, bittersweet payoff in the author's most gothic tale yet.

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Product Details

Bolinda Audio
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7.40(w) x 5.30(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 soon it will begin.

The trees know, for they are old and they have seen it all before.

It is moonless.

It is moonless when the Mud Man comes. The night has slipped on a pair of fine, leather gloves, shaken a black sheet across the land: a ruse, a disguise, a sleeping spell, so that all beneath it slumbers sweet.

Darkness, but not only, for there are nuances and degrees and textures to all things. Look: the rough woolliness of the huddled woods; the quilted stretch of fields; the smooth molasses moat. And yet … Unless you are very unlucky, you won’t have noticed that something moved where it should not. You are fortunate indeed. For there are none who see the Mud Man rise and live to tell the tale.

There—see? The sleek black moat, the mud-soaked moat, lies flat no longer. A bubble has appeared, there in the widest stretch, a heaving bubble, a quiver of tiny ripples, a suggestion—

But you have looked away! And you were wise to do so. Such sights are not for the likes of you. We will turn our attention instead to the castle, for that way also something stirs.

High up in the tower.

Watch and you will see.

A young girl tosses back her covers.

She has been put to bed hours before; in a nearby chamber her nurse snores softly, dreaming of soap and lilies and tall glasses of warm fresh milk. But something has woken the girl; she sits up furtively, sidles across the clean white sheet, and places her feet, one beside the other, two pale, narrow blocks, on the wooden floor.

There is no moon to look at or to see by, and yet she is drawn to the window. The stippled glass is cold; she can feel the night-frosted air shimmering as she climbs atop the bookcase, sits above the row of discarded childhood favorites, victims of her rush to grow up and away. She tucks her nightdress round the tops of her pale legs and rests her cheek in the cup where one white knee meets the other.

The world is out there, people moving about in it like clockwork dolls.

Someday soon she plans to see it for herself; for this castle might have locks on all the doors and bars against the windows, but that is to keep the other thing out and not to keep her in.

The other thing.

She has heard stories about him. He is a story. A tale from long ago, the bars and locks vestiges of a time when people believed such things. Rumors about monsters in moats who lay in wait to prey upon fair maidens. A man to whom an ancient wrong was done, who seeks revenge against his loss, time and time again.

But the young girl—who would frown to hear herself described that way—is no longer bothered by childhood monsters and fairy tales. She is restless; she is modern and grown-up and hungers for escape. This window, this castle, has ceased to be enough, and yet for the time being it is all she has and thus she gazes glumly through the glass.

Out there, beyond, in the folded crease between the hills, the village is falling to drowsy sleep. A dull and distant train, the last of the night, signals its arrival: a lonely call that goes unanswered, and the porter in a stiff cloth hat stumbles out to raise the signal. In the nearby woods, a poacher eyes his shot and dreams of getting home to bed, while on the outskirts of the village, in a cottage with peeling paint, a newborn baby cries.

Perfectly ordinary events in a world where all makes sense. Where things are seen when they are there, missed when they are not. A world quite unlike the one in which the girl has woken to find herself.

For down below, nearer than the girl has thought to look, something is happening.

The moat has begun to breathe. Deep, deep, mired in the mud, the buried man’s heart kicks wetly. A low noise, like the moaning wind but not, rises from the depths and hovers tensely above the surface. The girl hears it, that is, she feels it, for the castle foundations are married to the mud, and the moan seeps through the stones, up the walls, one story after another, imperceptibly through the bookcase on which she sits. A once-beloved tale tumbles to the floor and the girl in the tower gasps.

The Mud Man opens an eye. Sharp, sudden, tracks it back and forth. Is he thinking, even now, of his lost family? The pretty little wife and the pair of plump, milky babes he left behind? Or have his thoughts cast further back to the days of boyhood, when he ran with his brother across fields of long pale stems? Or are his thoughts, perhaps, of the other woman, the one who loved him before his death? Whose flattery and attentions and refusal to be refused cost the Mud Man everything—

Something changes. The girl senses it and shivers. Presses her hand to the icy window and leaves a starry print within the condensation. The witching hour is upon her, though she does not know to call it that. There is no one left to help her now. The train is gone, the poacher lies beside his wife, even the baby sleeps, having given up trying to tell the world all that it knows. At the castle the girl in the window is the only one awake; her nurse has stopped snoring and her breaths are so light now that one might think her frozen; the birds in the castle wood are silent too, heads tucked beneath their shivering fenders, eyes sealed in thin gray lines against the thing they know is coming.

The girl is the only one, and the man, waking in the mud. His heart splurting; faster now, for his time has come and it will not last long. He rolls his wrists, his ankles, he launches from the muddy bed.

Don’t watch. I beg you, look away as he breaks the surface, as he clambers from the moat, as he stands on the black, drenched banks, raises his arms, and inhales. Remembers how it is to breathe, to love, to ache.

Look instead at the storm clouds. Even in the dark you can see them coming. A rumble of angry, fisted clouds, rolling, fighting, until they are right above the tower. Does the Mud Man bring the storm, or does the storm bring the Mud Man? Nobody knows.

In her bower, the girl inclines her head as the first reluctant drops splatter against the pane and meet her hand. The day has been fine, not too hot; the evening cool. No talk of midnight rain. The following morning, people will greet the sodden earth with surprise, scratch their heads, and smile at one another and say, What a thing! To think we slept right through it!

But look! What’s that?—A shape, a mass, is climbing up the tower wall. The figure climbs quickly, ably, impossibly. For no man, surely, can achieve such a feat?

He arrives at the girl’s window. They are face-to-face. She sees him through the streaky glass, through the rain—now pounding; a mudded, monstrous creature. She opens her mouth to scream, to cry for help, but in that very moment, everything changes.

Before her eyes, he changes. She sees through the layers of mud, through the generations of darkness and rage and sorrow, to the human face beneath. A young man’s face. A forgotten face. A face of such longing and sadness and beauty; and she reaches, unthinking, to unlock the window. To bring him in from the rain.

Raymond Blythe, The True History of the Mud Man, Prologue




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 of a nondescript house in Bermondsey. 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.

Forgive me, I’m being romantic—a habit acquired from the years spent reading nineteenth-century novels with a torch when my parents thought I was asleep. What I mean to say is that it’s odd to think that if Arthur Tyrell had been a little more responsible, if he hadn’t had one too many rum toddies that Christmas Eve in 1941 and gone home and fallen into a drunken slumber instead of finishing his mail delivery, if the bag hadn’t then been tucked in his attic and hidden until his death some fifty years later when one of his daughters unearthed it and called the Daily Mail, the whole thing might have turned out differently. For my mum, for me, and especially for Juniper Blythe.

You probably read about it when it happened; it was in all the newspapers and on the TV news. Channel 4 even ran a special where they invited some of the recipients to talk about their letter, their particular voice from the past that had come back to surprise them. There was a woman whose sweetheart had been in the RAF, and the man with the birthday card his evacuated son had sent, the little boy who was killed by a piece of falling shrapnel a week or so later. It was a very good program, I thought: moving in parts, happy and sad stories interspersed with old footage of the war. I cried a couple of times, but that’s not saying much: I’m rather disposed to weep.

Mum didn’t go on the show, though. The producers contacted her and asked whether there was anything special in her letter that she’d like to share with the nation, but she said no, that it was just an ordinary old clothing order from a shop that had long ago gone out of business. But that wasn’t the truth. I know this because I was there when the letter arrived. I saw her reaction to that lost letter and it was anything but ordinary.

It was a morning in late February, winter still had us by the throat, the flower beds were icy, and I’d come over to help with the Sunday roast. I do that sometimes because my parents like it, even though I’m a vegetarian and I know that at some point during the course of the meal my mother will start to look worried, then agonized, until finally she can stand it no longer and statistics about protein and anemia will begin to fly.

I was peeling potatoes in the sink when the letter dropped through the slot in the door. The mail doesn’t usually come on Sundays so that should have tipped us off, but it didn’t. For my part, I was too busy wondering how I was going to tell my parents that Jamie and I had broken up. It had been two months since it happened and I knew I had to say something eventually, but the longer I took to utter the words, the more calcified they became. And I had my reasons for staying silent: my parents had been suspicious of Jamie from the start, they didn’t take kindly to upsets, and Mum would worry even more than usual if she knew that I was living in the flat alone. Most of all, though, I was dreading the inevitable, awkward conversation that would follow my announcement. To see first bewilderment, then alarm, then resignation cross Mum’s face as she realized the maternal code required her to provide some sort of consolation … But back to the mail. The sound of something dropping softly through the letter box.

“Edie, can you get that?”

This was my mother. (Edie is me; I’m sorry, I should have said so earlier.) She nodded towards the hallway and gestured with the hand that wasn’t stuck up the inside of the chicken.

I put down the potato, wiped my hands on a tea towel, and went to fetch the post. There was only one letter lying on the welcome mat: an official post office envelope declaring the contents to be “redirected mail.” I read the label to Mum as I brought it into the kitchen.

She’d finished stuffing the chicken by then and was drying her own hands. Frowning a little, from habit rather than any particular expectation, she took the letter from me and plucked her reading glasses from on top of the pineapple in the fruit bowl. She skimmed the post office notice and with a flicker of her eyebrows began to open the outer envelope.

I’d turned back to the potatoes by now, a task that was arguably more engaging than watching my mum open mail, so I’m sorry to say I didn’t see her face as she fished the smaller envelope from inside, as she registered the frail austerity paper and the old stamp, as she turned the letter over and read the name written on the back. I’ve imagined it many times since, though, the color draining instantly from her cheeks, her fingers beginning to tremble so that it took minutes before she was able to slit the envelope open.

What I don’t have to imagine is the sound. The horrid, guttural gasp, followed quickly by a series of rasping sobs that swamped the air and made me slip with the peeler so that I cut my finger.

“Mum?” I went to her, draping my arm around her shoulders, careful not to bleed on her dress. But she didn’t say anything. She couldn’t, she told me later, not then. She stood rigidly as tears spilled down her cheeks and she clutched the strange little envelope, its paper so thin I could make out the corner of the folded letter inside, hard against her bosom. Then she disappeared upstairs to her bedroom leaving a fraying wake of instructions about the bird and the oven and the potatoes.

The kitchen settled in a bruised silence around her absence and I stayed very quiet, moved very slowly so as not to disturb it further. My mother is not a crier, but this moment—her upset and the shock of it—felt oddly familiar, as if we’d been here before. After fifteen minutes in which I variously peeled potatoes, turned over possibilities as to whom the letter might be from, and wondered how to proceed, I finally knocked on her door and asked whether she’d like a cup of tea. She’d composed herself by then and we sat opposite one another at the small Formica-covered table in the kitchen. As I pretended not to notice she’d been crying, she began to talk about the envelope’s contents.

“A letter,” she said, “from someone I used to know a long time ago. When I was just a girl, twelve, thirteen.”

A picture came into my mind, a hazy memory of a photograph that had sat on my gran’s bedside when she was old and dying. Three children, the youngest of whom was my mum, a girl with short dark hair, perched on something in the foreground. It was odd; I’d sat with Gran a hundred times or more but I couldn’t bring that girl’s features into focus now. Perhaps children are never really interested in who their parents were before they were born; not unless something particular happens to shine a light on the past. I sipped my tea, waiting for Mum to continue.

“I don’t know that I’ve told you much about that time, have I? During the war, the Second World War. It was a terrible time, such confusion, so many things were broken. It seemed …” She sighed. “Well, it seemed as if the world would never return to normal. As if it had been tipped off its axis and nothing would ever set it to rights.” She cupped her hands around the steaming rim of her mug and stared down at it.

“My family—Mum and Dad, Rita and Ed and I—we all lived in a small house together in Barlow Street, near the Elephant and Castle, and the day after war broke out we were rounded up at school, marched over to the railway station, and put into train carriages. I’ll never forget it, all of us with our tags on and our masks and our packs, and the mothers, who’d had second thoughts because they came running down the road towards the station, shouting at the guard to let their kids off; then shouting at older siblings to look after the little ones, not to let them out of their sight.”

She sat for a moment, biting her bottom lip as the scene played out in her memory.

“You must’ve been frightened,” I said quietly. We’re not really hand-holders in our family or else I’d have reached out and taken hers.

“I was, at first.” She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Her face had a vulnerable, unfinished look without her frames, like a small nocturnal animal confused by the daylight. I was glad when she put them on again and continued. “I’d never been away from home before, never spent a night apart from my mother. But I had my older brother and sister with me, and as the trip went on and one of the teachers handed round bars of chocolate, everybody started to cheer up and look upon the experience almost like an adventure. Can you imagine? War had been declared but we were all singing songs and eating canned pears and looking out of the window playing I Spy. Children are very resilient, you know; callous in some cases.

“We arrived eventually in a town called Cranbrook, only to be split into groups and loaded onto various coaches. The one I was on with Ed and Rita took us to the village of Milderhurst, where we were walked in lines to a hall. A group of local women was waiting for us there, smiles fixed on their faces, lists in hand, and we were made to stand in rows as people milled about, making their selection.

“The little ones went fast, especially the pretty ones. People supposed they’d be less work, I expect, that they’d have less of the whiff of London about them.”

She smiled crookedly. “They soon learned. My brother was picked early. He was a strong boy, tall for his age, and the farmers were desperate for help. Rita went a short while after with her friend from school.”

Well, that was it. I reached out and laid my hand on hers. “Oh, Mum.”

“Never mind.” She pulled free and gave my fingers a tap. “I wasn’t the last to go. There were a few others, a little boy with a terrible skin condition. I don’t know what happened to him, but he was still standing there in that hall when I left.

“You know, for a long time afterwards, years and years, I forced myself to buy bruised fruit if that’s what I picked up first at the greengrocer’s. None of this checking it over and putting it back on the shelf if it didn’t measure up.”

“But you were chosen eventually.”

“Yes, I was chosen eventually.” She lowered her voice, fiddling with something in her lap, and I had to lean close. “She came in late. The room was almost clear, most of the children had gone and the ladies from the Women’s Voluntary Service were putting away the tea things. I’d started to cry a little, though I did so very discreetly. Then all of a sudden, she swept in and the room, the very air, seemed to alter.”

“Alter?” I wrinkled my nose, thinking of that scene in Carrie when the light explodes.

“It’s hard to explain. Have you ever met a person who seems to bring their own atmosphere with them when they arrive somewhere?”

Maybe. I lifted my shoulders, uncertain. My friend Sarah has a habit of turning heads wherever she goes; not exactly an atmospheric phenomenon, but still …

“No, of course you haven’t. It sounds so silly to say it like that. What I mean is that she was different from other people, more … Oh, I don’t know. Just more. Beautiful in an odd way, long hair, big eyes, rather wild looking, but it wasn’t that alone which set her apart. She was only seventeen at the time, in September 1939, but the other women all seemed to fold into themselves when she arrived.”

“They were deferential?”

“Yes, that’s the word, deferential. Surprised to see her and uncertain how to behave. Finally, one of them spoke up, asking whether if she could help, but the girl merely waved her long fingers and announced that she’d come for her evacuee. That’s what she said; not an evacuee, her evacuee. And then she came straight over to where I was sitting on the floor. ‘What’s your name?’ she said, and when I told her she smiled and said that I must be tired, having traveled such a long way. ‘Would you like to come and stay with me?’ I nodded, I must have, for she turned then to the bossiest woman, the one with the list, and said that she would take me home with her.”

“What was her name?”

“Blythe,” said my mother, suppressing the faintest of shivers. “Juniper Blythe.”

“And was it she who sent you the letter?”

Mum nodded. “She led me to the fanciest car I’d ever seen and drove me back to the place where she and her older twin sisters lived, through a set of iron gates, along a winding driveway, until we reached an enormous stone edifice surrounded by thick woods. Milderhurst Castle.”

The name was straight out of a gothic novel and I tingled a little, remembering Mum’s sob when she’d read the woman’s name and address on the back of the envelope. I’d heard stories about the evacuees, about some of the things that went on, and I said on a breath, “Was it ghastly?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. Not ghastly at all. Quite the opposite.”

“But the letter … it made you—”

“The letter was a surprise, that’s all. A memory from a long time ago.”

She fell silent then and I thought about the enormity of evacuation, how frightening, how odd it must have been for her as a child to be sent to a strange place where everyone and everything was vastly different. I could still touch my own childhood experiences, the horror of being thrust into new, unnerving situations, the furious bonds that were forged of necessity—to buildings, to sympathetic adults, to special friends—in order to survive. Remembering those urgent friendships, something struck me: “Did you ever go back, Mum, after the war? To Milderhurst?”

She looked up sharply. “Of course not. Why would I?”

“I don’t know. To catch up, to say hello. To see your friend.”

“No.” She said it firmly. “I had my own family in London, my mother couldn’t spare me, and besides, there was work to be done, cleaning up after the war. Real life went on.” And with that, the familiar veil came down between us and I knew the conversation was over.

WE DIDN’T have the roast in the end. Mum said she didn’t feel like it and asked whether I minded terribly giving it a miss this weekend. It seemed unkind to remind her that I don’t eat meat anyway and that my attendance was more in the order of daughterly service, so I told her it was fine and suggested that she have a lie-down. She agreed, and as I gathered my things into my bag she was already swallowing two aspirins in preparation, reminding me to keep my ears covered in the wind.

My dad, as it turns out, slept through the whole thing. He’s older than Mum and had retired from his work a few months before. Retirement hasn’t been good for him: he roams the house during the week, looking for things to fix and tidy, driving Mum mad, then on Sunday he rests in his armchair. The God-given right of the man of the house, he says to anyone who’ll listen.

I gave him a kiss on the cheek and left the house, braving the chill air as I made my way to the tube, tired and unsettled and somewhat subdued to be heading back alone to the fiendishly expensive flat I’d shared until recently with Jamie. It wasn’t until somewhere between High Street Kensington and Notting Hill Gate that I realized Mum hadn’t told me what the letter said.


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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“A nuanced exploration of family secrets and betrayal . . . captivating.” —People (****)

“A new leap in Morton’s authorial choreography. . . . A rich treat for fans of historical fiction.” —The Washington Post

“A spellbinding journey, a mystery whose well-paced revelations provide a surprising and deeply satisfying read.” —Booklist

“A fresh and thrilling gothic mystery. . . . Layers of deliciously surprising secrets.”

Library Journal

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The Distant Hours 3.8 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 538 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
An ancient castle, dark family secrets, obsession, and madness are at the heart of Kate Morton's newest novel, The Distant Hours. For most of their lives, a distance has always existed between Edie Burchill and her mother. Then one day, a letter, lost for decades, mysteriously appears. Edie cannot help but burn with curiosity at her mother's reaction and the secrets of her past. During World War II, Edie's mother, Meredith, was one of thousands of children evacuated from war torn London into the safety of the English countryside and into Millderhurst Castle owned by the Blythe family. There, Juniper Blythe and her twin sisters, Pen and Saffy, and their father Raymond, the author of a classic children's novel, make a home for the displaced girl. Enchanted by the magnificence of the castle and its family, Meredith is enthralled by her new, but temporary circumstances, and falls in love with her surroundings. Decades later, gripped with curiosity of her mother's past, Edie travels to Millderhurst castle and meets the elderly and eccentric Blythe spinsters. Little by little, she discovers the dark secrets that lurk behind the castle walls and the real truth about the distant hours - the not too distant past. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is a masterful tale that unfolds slowly, one secret at a time, teasing the reader with every turn of the page. The setting itself is compelling - an ancient castle ravaged by time with plenty of secret rooms and passageways. I found all the characters enigmatic, each with their own fascinating story. There's a little of everything in this story - love, betrayal, murder, and tragedy and it all lends a powerful ambience from the start of this fabulous story to the powerful end. Kate Morton writes with detail and deep introspection, making the characters convincing and larger than life. One cannot help but like this story and admire the clever way it unfolds. I could not put this book down and it kept me awake at night as I was eager to read on to discover the next secret. It truly is a beautifully written story. If you like a cozy mystery that involves ancient castles with loads of mystery, this is a must to have on your reading list. The Distant Hours is scheduled for release in early November. A very worthy novel that will be a bestseller! I have no doubt.
Gram948 More than 1 year ago
Somewhere there is a great story lurking in the 560 pages of this book Ms Norton has the flair for a first rate pseudo-gothic novel, however it is buried very deeply under pages and pages of description which adds nothing to the overall atmosphere except to make the book rather dreary. Would not recommend this to most of my reader friends.
mapp More than 1 year ago
Like a previous reviewer I think that this book could have used some better editing and lots less words on the part of the author. Having read and loved the first two books by this author, I pre-ordered and couldn't wait to get this one. There was an interesting plot and some unexpected twists but the book could have been 150 pages shorter and been much more enjoyable.
LovesToReadBW More than 1 year ago
The Distant Hours October 12, 2010 Kate Morton I haven't had the occasion to read any of Kate Morton's previous books but I was blown away by this one. I received an advance copy with a plain light blue cover and wasn't sure if it was something I would enjoy. This book is wonderful! Ms. Morton has combined the history of WWI and WWII, romance over the ages, intrigue with a little murder and the mysteries between sisters and the difficulties within families to communicate. I couldn't put the book down but was then disappointed when I finished. Some people are intimidated by a long book, but if the book is well written you don't even notice the length. I will now look for other books by Kate Morton and look forward to being equally entranced.
OurBookAddiction More than 1 year ago
I was quite fascinated with this book even given its length. It's not the type of book you can just blow through. The author spends a lot of time with character development and you will do yourself a huge disservice if you don't take your time with it. I found the writing beautiful and the storyline enchanting. The physical descriptions of the castle made me feel as though I could close my eyes and reach out and touch the moldering walls. I did feel a bit of disconnect between the relevancy of Edie's mother and her relationship to the main story. I suppose it was the "open door" to bringing the reader into the castle in the first place. The next book I want to read by Kate Morton is The Forgotten Garden. She has an uncanny ability to transport her readers to a different place and time. I am eager to see if she can perform her magic in that one as well.
yowen2010 More than 1 year ago
It wasn't honestly the best book by Morton but it was good nonetheless. Enjoyable and interesting but just so.
Diam0nd_H3art More than 1 year ago
I loved Kate Morton's book The Forgotten Garden, I loved it so much I thought I'd try another one of her books. This book seemed to drag on, the beginning didn't capture me, and about 70 pages in it still hasn't grabbed me. I've tried my hardest to get interested in this book but each chapter is just boring. She does give very descriptive sceneries, but that's it. The character's are bland. I would recommend The Forgotten Garden, but that's all.
IamGiGi More than 1 year ago
Kate Morton has a way of telling stories....and makes them totally believable, just like the way my Grandmother told stories. This is the second of her books that I have read, and I'm looking to more! There is quality, and a substance to the book that is hard to describe. Just like bread pudding has a thickness to it, and is deliciously are Kate Morton's books! GiGi
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written and takes you to another time and magical place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good pace and intriguing
ItsBelle More than 1 year ago
This book has everything ... a castle, secrets, some kooky sisters, a murder. If you're looking for a book you can get lost in, this is it. I'm a fan of Kate's and love the way she writes and brings her characters to life. I also love the way she takes you back and forth through time effortlessly but doesn't reveal the whole story too fast, which of course leaves you on the edge of your seat and reading far into the night. You won't be disappointed with this one!
mjmutch More than 1 year ago
This book starts slowly, in the voice of the person who knows the least. but it also start beautifully, and slowly builds momentum as more and more information is revealed. I was guessing and pondering and never did solve much myself. I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very well done and exciting. I loved her other 2 books, and this one did not disappoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know some feel the book was too long and too wordy....but to tell a good story and go back spanning 2 wars and a few generations of characters - I just found the words, descriptions and length a necessity in order to tell a good story and not miss anything. Morton weaves a good story and develops characters very well - I've read her first two books and thought they were wonderful. The Sisters Blythe needed a great deal of description since their characters were so totally different and they had their own secrets that had to be brought out and developed, as did Edie's mother - so many stories in their own lives as well as Meredith's and Edies....and intertwined to come out to the story in the end. I thought the story, plot and characters (and all those words) were amazing and told a wonderful story. Like The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden - I just enjoyed the characters so much I really hated to see the story end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was attracted to this book because of the plot--it seemed unique and different. However, I was disappointed and indifferent--overall: it's slow and rather dreary like most other reviewers have said. I found it boring and drab. It failed to keep my interest and I kept wondering when the pace would pick up. Some parts (such as when the sisters' pasts are revealed) did add some spark but failed to carry through for me. There were times when I honestly didn't even want to open the book again. Truthfully, save your $24--don't waste your money like I did.
a3love More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. I could not put it down. I loved all the characters - they are so well-developed! I felt like I knew each one. The story line was totally original and creative. I was sad when it ended. I have read reviews that say the story line is too long & boring - I could not disagree more. It was perfect. This will be on my short list of favorites for a long, long time. I am looking forward to reading more of Kate Morton's books. LOVED IT!
knotdr More than 1 year ago
This book just dragged on and on. Some may call it character development but I found I cared less and knew little more as the chapters kept on. Not worth it, was great to read before sleep because it didn't capture you so I got lots of sleep.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful writing weaving a great plot with interesting, intrigueing characters.
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
My first introduction to Kate Morton's writing was The House at Riverton. A Gothic tale, told within multiple timelines, and secrets galore, The Distant Hours is no different in that respect. However, I should start this post by asking you a question: When you were a kid, what was the story that grabbed you? Held you speechless as you turned each page and introduced you to the world of imagination and possibility? I can think of a few titles that capture this feeling for me, but for Edie in The Distant Hours, there will only ever be one. It is a celebrated classic, one that is a horror story of monumental proportions, but is simultaneously literary. The Mud Man, by Richard Blythe, a tale of horror, intrigue, and disturbing events that shake a young mind to their bones - this is the story that made Edie fall in love with books. As an adult, she now works in the publishing industry and has a somewhat strained relationship with her parents in which not much is shared about their young lives. Disjointed this may be, Edie is aware that when her mother was a child, she was one of the many evacuees in England during World War II, and was the only one safely stationed at Milderhurst Castle. Already a Gothic and mysterious home it is even more so filled with secrets since this was the home of the very author of The Mud Man. Edie was always curious about her mother's relationship to this castle and the family, and while on a business trip, she decides to take a slight detour and visit the famous castle. While there, she meets the three daughters of Raymond Blythe, now much older while on a tour of the house, and is invited back much later to write the introduction for the release of a new edition of their father's famous story. Back and forth between the 1930s and the 1990s, and told from different characters' perspectives, this is simply haunting and Gothic, through and through. Where did the story of The Mud Man truly come from? Why is the oldest sister, Percy, so gruff and cold? Why is the youngest, Juniper, still waiting for her fiancé, even though it's been over fifty years? And what really was their relationship with Edie's mother? Once again, as with The House at Riverton, I find I'm always mesmerized with the mystery, the characters, their sadness, and their regrets. The story is creepy and detailed, and while I thought the end was a bit too nicely wrapped up for this eloquently haunting story, I was absolutely satisfied yet again with Kate Morton's work. I look forward to downloading another audiobook from her, and Caroline Lee as the narrator was extremely impressive. My first time listening to her voice, and I look forward to more.
Rainbow-chaser More than 1 year ago
Once again Kate Morton doesn't fail to deliver a briliant reading!
Jessie Hanus More than 1 year ago
I just happened upon this book and I could'nt have been happier! I just loved the detail the author shares, and the characters are fantastic! This is a long book, which I love! More Please!!!!
X_in_SF More than 1 year ago
I loved her first two books. They were very easy reads and nice escapes after a long day at work. This book had a really great plot, and I loved the characters, but I found the writing to be too wordy and the descriptions too elaborate. It felt like the author had changed her style and it wasn't for the better. It wasn't really about the book being too long or going into too many details, it was just that all of the adjectives and adverbs and attempts to set the scene didn't really work and didn't add anything to the story except bulk. I found myself skipping over many sentences at a time during the parts where it was especially pronounced. It's really too bad because I found that the plot and the setting really interesting and would have had the extra pages devoted to more of the Mud Man then the failed attempt at being a "better" writer. Perhaps now that the author is successful, she is taking less advice from her editors?
SILZ More than 1 year ago
When I finished Kate Morton's House at Riverton I enthusiastically recommended it to EVERYONE I knew! And so I couldn't wait to read the Distant Hours. Despite Morton's well-fleshed characters and an intriguing premise, I found the book to be tedious, convoluted and therefore much too long. I DO look forward Morton's next creation - she's still my favorite author................
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not sure how I rate this story. It is poetically and beautifully written as one would expect from Kate Morton. However, I agree with what others have said about it being a bit long and drawn out. I was captivated by the characters and their tragedies. I didn't become absorbed into the tale until about the last two hundred pages, then, I couldn't put it down. I anticipated more from Meredith's character in the end, since she contributed so much mystery in the beginning. I felt like I had read a similar story somewhere before minus the mud man. I can't say as I was disappointed, but I had expected better. I am still a huge fan of Kate Morten's. I loved "The Forgotten Garden". It remains my favorite book. For Kate Morten fans "The Distant Hours" is still worth investing the time to read. It is a wonderful tale of love and tragedy.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
Once in a while you come across a book that imprints itself in your mind and touches you in so many ways. That's what happened when I read The Distant Hours. I adore this book and have it on my "to read again" shelf. I give it five stars.
Anonymous 7 months ago