Morton, Kate. The Lake House.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

I’ve been aware of Morton as an author of well-received romantic novels, but those usually aren’t my thing, so I hadn’t actually read any of her books — until this one, which was recommended by several friends who knew my tastes. And it is, in fact, very, very good indeed. In fact, it’s an amazing piece of work.

The setting is Loeanneth, a lush country house in Cornwall, in 1931-33 — and also in about 1910 and in 2003. The focus is the Edevane family, from Constance, the grandmother, to Eleanor, the mother, to Alice, the middle one of three daughters, who was a handful as a teenager and now in the 21st century is an elderly and world-renown author of decidedly non-cozy mystery novels. There’s also Anthony, Eleanor’s husband, who suffered greatly in the Great War. And then there’s Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow of the London Met, who is the catalyst of the plot’s action. And there’s Benjamin, the itinerant worker, without whose quiet presence there would be no story.

Back in 1933, the youngest Edevane child and only son, eleven-month-old Theo, went missing during a huge, grand Midsummer party at Loeanneth. The police found no body, no ransom note was ever received, and the case has been unsolved for seventy years. In the present, Sadie is in Dutch with her superiors for going outside the force and talking to a journalist about a modern case that has been shelved. She has temporarily retreated to Cornwall to visit her retired and widowed grandfather, who moved there from London, and she hears about the old Edevane case. Because she’s dying of boredom, and because she hates unsolved cases no matter how old they are, she begins poking into things. And the ball starts rolling.

There are many, many layers to this story, in the events of the narrative, in the characters’ evolving perceptions of them, and in the basic personalities of the characters themselves. The narration bounces back and forth between the generations as we pick up new information and view things from different characters’ perspectives, especially Alice and each of her sisters and their mother and grandmother — but every time you think you have begun to understand what really happened to little Theo, something else pops up to make you rethink what you believe you know. Morton does an excellent job of slowly unveiling the personalities and motivations of the women involved, especially through the minutiae of their lives — how they got to be the way they were and are, how other characters’ opinions and views of them are inaccurate, or at least incomplete, and the extremes a woman will go to to protect those who are important to her. And Constance, Eleanor, Alice, and even Sadie have much more in common than any of them would have believed.

Sadie, being a good cop, doesn’t believe in coincidence, but it plays a believable part in the story. She has also been taught not to be distracted by motive in investigating a case, but she finds that motive is the key to everything that happened at Loeanneth. And she discovers that there are parallels between the cases of 1933 and 2003, regarding “mothers and children, the removal of one from the other” — and also a parallel with her own life.

Finally, I have to say that the resolution of the mystery caught me completely flat-footed. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting — but it turned out to be very satisfying indeed. I can’t recommend this beautifully written book strongly enough.

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