The Lake House, by Kate Morton *****

thelakehouseAs a rule, I am not fond of British fiction; I prefer working class protagonists to the silver-spoon variety; and I like urban settings more than pastoral ones. But The Lake House is written by the author that produced The Forgotten Garden, and so when I had the chance to grab the galley, I went for it. And once more, experience proves that a brilliant writer can sell any story, in the setting of her choice, with the protagonists of her choice, and she can make it flow smooth as warm butter.

This deep, luminous story came to me from Net Galley and Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster. Thank you once, twice, and a third time too, because Morton has done it again. The book is a must-read for all that love mysteries and literary fiction.

Sadie Sparrow works for the Metropolitan Police, but her job hangs by a thread because she has become over-involved in the case of a missing woman. A toddler was found abandoned in her home, and Sparrow is haunted by the insistence of the child’s grandmother that her daughter would never, ever leave the child intentionally. Sparrow has been told to take some time off and stay away from the case; she retreats to her grandfather’s home in Cornwall, and becomes transfixed by an older, colder case, that of the mysterious disappearance of a child that lived in the beautiful old home nearby, Loeanneth, where a baby boy vanished many years earlier. Sadie sublimates her urge to follow up on her current, forbidden case by poking into the old mystery in Cornwall.

Morton takes us deftly from one setting, both time and place, to another so seamlessly that we cannot help being spellbound; this is literary fiction at its best. We meet the various members of the family that once summered in the once-lovely, now neglected Cornwall estate, and we watch across the years over three generations of the Edevane family that lived there, both in the years before World War II up to the present, with its elderly descendants that remain living.

Rather than a gripping page-turner, this is a well-crafted tale to be sunk into, like a feather bed or one’s favorite chair, with the phone turned off and a steaming cup of coffee (or tea, if you must) to go with it. Those without the stamina for a complex, well-developed story of the necessary length will find themselves frustrated; this one is for true literature lovers, so be prepared to give it the time it deserves.

The characters are developed so expertly that they feel like people we have known a long time. My favorite was Eleanor, who in my own mental movie appeared as a young Vanessa Redgrave; readers of a later generation than mine will choose some other face to match Morton’s description. Every possible stereotype one might create having to do with women of that time and social station has been cleverly sidestepped in a fully credible manner. Even the haughtiest among them is presented with dignity and a certain grace.

Some will find the ending a little too perfectly resolved perhaps; I find it congenial.

For those that like visuals to go with their fiction, here’s a clip of grand homes in Cornwall:

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