So far, I have read two novels by Kate Morton. The first was The Forgotten Garden, which I did not read all that long ago, but did not blog about for some reason. Maybe the I needed to wait for the impact of the second book I have read called The House at Riverton. The books are not related to each other, but I did read Morton's second book first. I think though I may have liked her first better, which I finished this morning in my jammies because I could not wait to find out how it would turn out. I went as long as I could last night, but my eyes just would not stay open for another moment. There is a third book called The Distant Hours, which I have placed on hold at the library.
All three of these books deal with family mysteries. The Forgotten Garden switches back and forth from the present of a young woman who has lost her husband and child in a car accident. After her grandmother dies Cassandra seeks to solve the mystery of her families origins. The story moves in to the past as Morton allows us to discover the clues along with Cassandra. While pieces of the mystery come out quite early one, the last one does not click in to place until the very end. In this way, the reader may feel like she has it all figured out, but does not. The main character in the past is a children's book writers who is herself adrift without family support. I read this on the recommendation of an English teacher friend who liked the inclusion of a literary mystery along with the family mystery. The garden is also a bit reminiscient of Frances Hodgeson Burnett's The Secret Garden.
The House at Riverton kept reminding me of Masterpiece's wonderful mini-series Downton Abbey because of the inclusion of the perspective of the servants in a grand English home. The novel begins just before the start of World War I but is told by Grace who is now 98 years old looking for someone to whom to tell her story before all the secrets of the Hartford family are lost with her. She chooses to record her message on tapes she sends to her grandson whose whereabouts are unknown to her and his mother, though he sends postcards. Grace began as a housemaid at Riverton, but by the time she left service she was a ladies maid to Hannah Hartford, the eldest daughter in the family. It is difficult to talk about this book and The Forgotten Garden without giving away any of the mystery. One of the strongest elements of the book besides the characterization is the attention to detail when describing the time. I love historical fiction of this time period; so much changed in the way people lived and saw their place in the world because of World Wars I and II. So much of our modern sensibilities were formed by these incredibly destructive experiences. One can read history books to review the facts, but biographies and historical fiction are the only way to understand what people's lives were like if you are not able to speak with someone who lived through it all.
I am looking forward to the third book hoping for more of Morton's attention to detail and vivid portrayals of the way people are affected by history.