What’s it about?
In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor in rural Berkshire. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?
(Blurb borrowed once again from Amazon)
Ah, Kate Morton. I have a theory that in order to write good books, she needs to write not so good ones every so often. The Distant Hours is an example of one of those, and unfortunately, so is this one.
The idea is great. An archivist uncovers a satchel and becomes hooked on uncovering its secrets; I’d definitely read a book based on that. However, the execution wasn’t so good. To be honest,the book felt like a mismatch of ideas she’d had that she couldn’t quite work up into a full novel. The modern-day section felt totally distinct from the 1862 section when it should have been intertwined. Elodie felt quite flat as a character, as though she only existed to further others’ storylines. This definitely shouldn’t be the case for the ostensible main character.
There were also too many storylines and half-hearted attempts to bring characters to life. There was what was clearly meant to be an ‘a-ha!’ moment near the end of the book, but I’d got so lost in the maze of sub-plots and rooftops that I had to frantically flick back to try and work out what was going on. Not easy on a Kindle, I can tell you. Elodie’s backstory needed some serious tidying up; I’m still puzzled as to why Morton had her as engaged. It seemed unnecessary and complicated to my eyes. If it was to create some kind of impetus for investigation, surely her whole ‘Mother’ plotline would have sufficed?
The ending too seemed to be rather vague and rushed. A crime equivalent of living happily ever after, in my opinion. After 592 pages of novel, this is quite a cop-out and not Morton’s usual style. I wondered at times if she’d had a case of Writer’s Block and just wanted to get this over and done with, such was the gracelessness of the writing at the end. It was also poorly researched. Morton has a character called Leonard spend time researching at the University of York library in 1928. Yet the University of York didn’t exist until 1963; that really jarred me out of the story.
There were good bits; Morton remains adept at locations, and I quite wanted to go to this idyllic cottage in Berkshire. Some of the ideas behind the plot were good, but there were too many of them and they were not thought through.
Would I recommend it?
Not really. Read Kate Morton’s other books if you want some picturesque female-centric drama. This one was not her best.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton is published by Mantle priced £18.99.
I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.