The House at Riverton – Kate Morton

February 13, 2014 8:08 pm

Book Review: The House at Riverton, Kate Morton1278752

This compelling gothic mystery focusing on the secrets and intrigues of an upper class family living in a large English country house at the beginning of the 20th Century is told from the perspective of a 98-year-old woman, Grace, who previously worked as their servant.

As I have never read Kate Morton before, I was not sure what to expect. I was, however, drawn by the book description, which promised me dark, long-forgotten secrets and old memories being awakened – who wouldn’t be curious? So I read ahead with high expectations, and wasn’t disappointed.

The driving force of the story is the mystery relating to the suicide of a famous poet in 1924, which is not revealed until right at the very end. However, the chronicle is about far more than this – the portrayal of the bond between the servant Grace and her peer and social superior, Hannah, and the turbulent relationship that Hannah has with her sister, Emmeline, are built steadily and culminate in a riveting conclusion.

5050751708_a4ef8501c6_b_largeA particularly effective device used by Morton was her use of two different time-zones – some parts of the narrative were set in 1924, others in 1999. This is partly why the story is oh-so-gripping – we are not aware of exactly what the ‘Big Mystery’ is, but we do know that the whole tale is based around this event, an occurrence which has affected and coloured this elderly woman’s entire life. When we realise that as this lady is letting go of her demons, she is gradually becoming weaker, the book is given a real sense of urgency.

One flaw is that a couple of the secrets were far too easy to work out; however, these do not detract from the main story or from the absolutely unexpected conclusion of the novel, so maybe this is not too important. On the plus side, I do take my hat off to Morton, as she managed to perfectly balance building incredible tension and evoking large amounts of curiosity in the reader (well, in me, but I’ll assume that this is to some extent typical!), and writing an ending that lives up to these expectations. All too often I read great stories that fill me with anticipation and then I end up putting the book down feeling utterly disappointed and dissatisfied in the finale. This time though, such an experience was not had (to my great relief).

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