I admit it: I’m a sucker for a good book cover. And the image of the cover of Kate Morton’s The Lake House leapt off the page so, ignoring any memory of having read other titles by this author or (more importantly perhaps) what genre this title belonged to, I dove in.
First off, I love reading mysteries, and this book opens in 2003 with the protagonist, Detective Sadie Sparrow, on forced leave from the job she loves in London, due to a huge mistake she made working a case involving a mother who disappeared, leaving her young daughter alone. Sadie zips off to Cornwall to stay with her beloved grandfather Bertie, who has relocated there following his wife’s death. As Sadie is exploring the neighborhood, she stumbles upon both an abandoned estate (Loeanneth, or “Lake House”) and another mystery involving a child – in this case, Theo, who is an 11-month old boy, the 4th child and 1st son of the Edevane family. Following Theo’s disappearance in the early 1930s during a large party at Loeanneth, the family moves to London, never to return. So, voila! More than one mystery! Looks promising.
The story shifts to 2003 London and the author Alice Edevane, who is the middle daughter who was 16 at the time her baby brother Theo disappeared from the family home at Loeanneth. Sadie contacts Alice, wanting permission to investigate the cold case (and the house itself, which is a significant presence in the story). As things unfold, we learn the backstory of the family and follow a number of what seem like loose ends, but somehow we know it will all be pulled together at the end (part of which I guessed at about 40% of the way through the book, and I am TERRIBLE at solving mysteries).
The Lake House has much in common with The Secret Keeper, Morton’s earlier book, which I read awhile ago: both include a country house, a teenage girl, family secrets and a narrative split between past and present. There are some cliffhangers, tons of description and artfully drawn settings. There are also strong female characters, particularly Alice and Sadie, both of whom are haunted by secrets.
Alice is amazing: in her 80s, she is sharp and feisty. “She had found that there were few genuinely dull people; the trick was to ask them the right questions.” And I loved the line: “To age was contemptible, but the single silver lining was the cloak of invisibility gifted by the years. Nobody noticed the little old lady…”
Sadie is struggling in more than one area and I was never clear on her self-perception, as she states”…would never have guessed in a million years that a person could gain this sort of satisfaction from a visit to the library, certainly not a person like her” (emphasis mine). What does that mean? She is, like Alice, inquisitive and determined. As someone who has for years felt answers would be found in books, what better place to hang out than a library? (OK, my librarian background and bias are showing) I did love her comment that …it was a berry brave thing to do, to write one’s feelings down on paper and give them to another person.”
So, as I look at the complex plotting, setting, etc. I see it was well done…so why, then, did I have such trouble with it? Two reasons, I think. One is that things were just way too neatly wrapped up. The other is that my own bias regarding genre must be stronger than I realized (or I am just older and crankier than I realized). Morton “has degrees in dramatic art and English literature specializing in 19th century tragedy and contemporary gothic novels (again, emphasis mine). This kept feeling like it was about to slide into a sloppy romance wrapped in a tinge of mystery. Seriously, when I read this line I nearly threw my Kindle across the room” He kissed her, and she sand into his embrace.”
To be fair, this is decidedly NOT my genre, and I know that people who enjoy the family-secret-romantic-mystery thing are going to ADORE this book. If I were still working in a public library, I would love to have this to recommend to the large number of people who fit that category. I will definitely recommend this title to some women I know, and while I doubt I will leap at the next book by Kate Morton, I do appreciate the opportunity to provide an honest review of this title in return for a copy from NetGalley.