By Kate Morton
Atria Books, October 2015
Atria Books, October 2015
About the Book
Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure. One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.
Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone . . . yet more present than ever.
In 1933 Cornwall, the Edevane family lives in a gorgeous, secluded country estate called Loannath (“Lake House”) surrounded by gardens, a wood, and a lake. Three daughters and an 11-month old son, Theo, live a seemingly idyllic life there with their parents. There is the precocious dreamer, Alice, who grows up to become a detective novel writer. Oldest Deborah is the city girl who goes on to marry a politician, and youngest girl Clemmie is the tomboy who is reluctant to grow up. Grandmother Dashiell and Mr. Llewelyn also live at the home with the children’s parents Eleanor and Anthony. But not all is as it seems and beneath the peaceful facade are several burning secrets—ones that are carefully hidden from the children’s eyes. These secrets snowball when one summer, Theo disappears, never to be seen again.
In 2003, detective Sadie Sparrow is forced to take leave from her job in London after she crosses a line to speak to a journalist about a case she feels was mishandled by her colleagues. Staying with her grandfather Bertie in Cornwall, Sadie stumbles across Loannath, now deserted and crumbling. The family left the house after Theo’s disappearance, and the house is something of a time capsule, waiting for someone to uncover the family’s secrets. Sadie jumps in, contacting the reclusive Alice, now an 86-year-old established novelist who isn’t keen to reopen the case. Sadie is running from her own demons, however, and she can’t stop until she uncovers what really happened to Baby Theo seventy years before.
This is a book you want to read when you want to indulge in rich prose, deep characters, and a gothic feel. This is a book that isn’t in a hurry, and is somewhat repetitive as it replays events from various perspectives. If you’re like me and often feel impatient, think of it as a day-long feast. Intricate is a vast understatement. The sheer number of layers in this novel is mind-blowing, so you’ll want plenty of time to soak it all in. Every single person is hiding a dark secret from their past, many more than one. The complexity is masterful. There is no other way to describe it. You visit the heads of every single character in the novel, including 11-month-old Theo.
One of my favorite twists was something involving the grandmother that is surprising, sneaky, and deliciously wicked all at once. My advice, never turn your back on Granny! What can I say? I have a weakness for women over 90 who take matters into their own hands.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It sucks you into another world and immerses you in the characters incredibly well. I did have two (small) complaints, though. The first is that all this character immersion means that you will most likely (as I did) figure out the mystery long before Sadie does, simply because you become privy to information she doesn’t have. So it takes a long, long while for Sadie to put the pieces together, though it is fun to watch her figure it out when you already know what happened. My other complaint is more significant. The plot is twisted, and fascinating, and messy—just as life is. The conclusion is the opposite—tidy, quick, and convenient—so it’s rather a letdown after that big a journey. I think the solution deserved to be as convoluted as the plot was.
So perhaps save this one for a holiday or long vacation when you can soak in its leisurely pace, haunting attributes, and tortured characters.