Crossing back and forth between 1992 and various dates during the WWII years, the novel opens as the present runs up against the past. A mysterious letter arrives fifty years too late, and Edie Burchill, a thirty-year-old London book editor, wonders why its contents would cause her mother such distress. Perhaps if Juniper Blythe's long-ago missive to Meredith Burchill had reached her in time, Juniper might have been spared the madness that befell her in her youth.
Evacuated out of London with other children during the war in anticipation of German bombings, Meredith had spent a year living at Milderhurst Castle in Kent, where she and brilliant, eccentric Juniper had become the best of friends, despite their slight age difference. Their friendship was not to last. Persephone and Seraphina Blythe, Juniper's now-elderly twin sisters, have cared for their fragile younger sibling ever since the terrible night in 1941 when Juniper's fiance deserted her, and she lost her mind as a result.
Edie's visit to the castle in search of answers serves as the catalyst for a series of disquieting revelations about the Blythes and further insight into the complicated dynamics within her own family. When Edie learns of Juniper's family connection to Raymond Blythe, the reclusive author who penned the beloved (and intensely creepy) children's novel The True History of the Mud Man, she grows even more intrigued. No one ever knew what inspired him to write the book; it has remained an unsolved mystery.
The Distant Hours is the type of novel you inhabit rather than simply read, and I found it satisfying on every level. I admired Morton's clever use of point of view and how it illustrated how younger generations view those who came before them. It would be an excellent read-alike choice for anyone who enjoyed Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger, and others of that ilk. Within its suspenseful plotline, successive aspects of a convoluted mystery lock into place one by one, and the final revelation is a stunner. Most of all, it's a celebration of the power of stories and how they can burrow deeply into our lives. This one certainly had that effect on me.
The Distant Hours is published on November 9th by Atria at $26.00/C$29.99 (672pp, hardbound).