THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

The present meets the past in a most unlikely coincidence of events in this recent novel by the latest most successful Australian author you may not have heard of. Like me. Looking at her profile, that her books have sold more than 10 million world wide, and that she has been on the New York Times bestseller lists four times, it seems fairly obvious I have missed something. So I was very much looking forward to getting myself lost in this novel, set like so many of her previous novels, somewhere in Cornwall. Cornwall would appear to be not the only common factor - in her past novels, there is a mystery of some sort surrounding people who live/have lived in said Cornwall, often something/someone abandoned, a family link from the present to the past, and a modern day character, usually female, going through some sort of crisis who ends up reconciling or solving whatever the mystery may be. A winning formula, and fully embraced in this latest novel.

Ms Morton is a master at weaving her plot, the many strands, threads and tenuous links that keep the reader involved and constantly wondering what the next reveal will be. The opening pages, in August 1933, have a female traipsing through mud and rain in the early dawn, digging a hole with a spade, burying a box in it, and covering the evidence. Well, if that doesn't set a scene for a mystery, then I don't know what will!

The many faceted plot essentially focuses on two people. Alice Edevane, now very elderly and living in London is a prolific and successful writer of whodunnits. Alice has never got over the disappearance of her 11 month old brother Theo at a midsummer's eve party in June 1933. The party was at her family's historical country house in Cornwall. She suspects who was involved in the disappearance but with no body or evidence of foul play ever turning up, this is actually the biggest mystery of her life. Seventy years after the disappearance, Sadie Sparrow, a young woman detective, is going through a particularly difficult time in her work. On leave visiting her grandfather in Cornwall, she stumbles upon the old house, now derelict and deserted. Her detective brain immediately senses that something happened here, and she takes it upon herself to solve the long standing mystery of the disappearing child.

The plot development, with its red herrings, taking the reader up the garden path and back down again is superbly done - it really and truly is a mystery, and many many pages are read as each twist and turn is fully explored, then either discarded or put into the memory bank for later use. And so you keep turning the pages, to find out what happened to this family way back in June 1933. Alice was sixteen, a young girl of enormous intellect and imagination passionately in love with Ben the  gardener,  her elder sister Deborah is about to be engaged, younger sister the free spirited Clemmie, and of course baby Theo. Their parents are Eleanor and Anthony who are doing their utmost to deal with the fallout of Anthony's WWI experiences in France - clearly post traumatic stress, but of course undiagnosed and not fully understood at that time. And there are other characters too who were part of the household who may or may not be equally implicated in the baby's disappearance. Like the novels that Alice writes, her life has also been a big whodunnit.

As well as the post war trauma theme, the loss of a child is a recurring theme. Not only with the disappearance of young Theo, but also still birth, adoption, child abandonment, what a mother will do to protect her child, and what happens to a mother in the protection of her child. These themes are sensitively and honestly handled, and all lend credence to the story line.

However for me, there were elements of disappointment. Firstly the cover, as beautiful and enticing as it is, has nothing to do with the story. And I am always a little suspicious of covers with the author's name in bigger and bolder font than the book's title. Secondly it is way too long - 591 pages: not just from a physical point of view of lying in bed and holding this thing up/open, but also from a content point of view. It could easily be a 150 plus pages shorter and nothing would be lost in the story telling or mystery solving by doing so. The major problem for me, however is how neatly and tidily everything is resolved at the end. For a narrative with so many twists and turns, possibilities and unexpecteds, the ending was a big anti climax, albeit unexpected in itself. And so I shut this book with a frustrating big bang and thought well, after 591 pages of tension and expectation, this was just too happily ever after for words.

But if you are looking for a great holiday read by the pool/beach/lake,  this will do very nicely. Take a lectern or book stand though so you don't get strained wrists from holding it up and open.

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