A few months ago I wrote a blog post about Kate Morton and why I’m a fan of her books. After reading her latest offering, those reasons are just as true as ever. With “The Lake House” she doesn’t break the mould but carries on doing what she does best: a dual-narrative novel with one strand set in the past and one in the present, both of which are connected. This time the main setting is a country house in Cornwall. We first visit it in the 1930s when the family’s youngest child has just gone missing, and again in 2003 when disgraced police detective Sadie Sparrow becomes intrigued by the unsolved case whilst on enforced leave from the Met.
This is Kate Morton’s fifth novel and I think it’s my favourite so far. I put this down to the fact that I was just as engaged with the modern story as I was with the historical one, something that doesn’t always happen with this type of book. In fact I felt Sadie was the most interesting and well-rounded of all the contemporary characters the author has created to date. The mystery of the missing child is the puzzle on which the novel hangs to be sure, but there is another disturbing case in the present day that needs resolving too. The link between past and present is the formidable Alice Edevane, who in her adult life has made a living as a successful crime novelist, but whose carefree childhood was scarred by the loss of her baby brother Theo during a midsummer garden party at their Cornwall home. Before that dreadful day, life on the Loeanneth country estate had been an almost fairytale-like existence of endless sunny days, picnics and boating on the lake. What appears at first to be an unsullied idyll, however, is gradually exposed as a rose-tinted picture of life as seen through the eyes of a child. The reality is that Loeanneth is a claustrophobic world of illicit affairs, deep-rooted jealousies and psychological trauma. Not long before Theo vanished without trace, Alice was beginning to stumble across her family’s secrets; in 2003 when Sadie meets her, she may just be the only person left alive who knows the truth about what happened to her brother.
It’s a complex plot, and by the end I was taking my hat off to Kate Morton for managing to come up with a mystery whose solution had so many strands to it. I didn’t guess exactly how Theo disappeared; there are clues and red herrings placed carefully throughout the book but I failed to knit all the evidence together correctly, which I think is as is should be. My one criticism may sound bizarre, but it’s that I felt everything was in fact wound up a little too perfectly. I’ve never liked completely open or mystifying endings to books, but in this case I thought that a few of the small side-plots didn’t actually need to be resolved. (I’d better put in a spoiler alert at this point!) The Loeanneth mystery was solved and that was enough; I didn’t feel the need to be reassured quickly in the final chapter that all the main character’s personal issues had been solved as well. That small gripe aside it was a really enjoyable read, similar in structure to her others but then if it isn’t broken, why fix it?!