I enjoyed this book much more than I’d expected to. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the blurb or the cover, but I thought it might be just another ‘stately home + mystery’ novel with no huge surprises. However, the depth of characterisation and complexity of the story drew me in and kept me reading for two straight days. Ellie is our present day narrator and she’s having to take leave from work as an investigative journalist after trying to expose an important businessman ended badly. So she returns to her family home in County Kerry, Ireland to spend time with her mother. Trying to keep a low profile and prevent all and sundry from knowing about her return, is a lost cause in a small Irish village. It’s only because she’s desperate for reading material that she braves the charity shop and her mother’s chatty friend Tabby Ryan. Tabby has set aside a box of books that have come from the large stately home nearby, Blackwater Hall. Ellie is grateful to see a few Agatha Christie novels on the top and takes the whole box. Inside is a mysterious letter, addressed only to ‘T’ but clearly belonging to the Rathmore family. It ignites a spark in Ellie, but she tries to do the right thing and return it. At the hall she meets Albert, the lone member of the Rathmore family left behind, but he seems confused about who Ellie is and keeps asking for his mother. Her concern for Albert leads her to his son Milo, but also the mystery surrounding the family. Charlotte Rathmore disappeared during the early part of WWII leaving a broken string of pearls by the lake. The official version is that Charlotte killed herself, but Ellie senses a story and starts to seek out other remaining members of the family. Can she solve the mystery of Charlotte’s disappearance and what changes will the truth bring to Blackwater Hall and the Rathmore family?
The author tells the story across three timelines. We travel back to Blackwater Hall and Nancy’s first visit to meet her boyfriend Teddy Rathmore’s family. This timelines really establishes the characters within the Rathmore family and the beginning of a friendship between Nancy and Teddy’s sister Charlotte. This is before WWII and the aristocratic family are thriving, but there are little hints of a change on the horizon. Charlotte has rebellion and adventure in her soul, while Teddy is ready and somewhat relieved to strike out into a new life with Nancy, since elder brother Hugo carries the pressure of being the heir apparent. The present day timeline with Ellie shows she is an interesting character in her own right. There’s some resistance to becoming comfortable back home, even though she’s finding it suits her in some respects. She may be uprooting other people’s secrets, but theres a sense she has some of her own lurking under the surface; a possible broken relationship and a reluctance to talk about it that intrigued me and made me want to know more. In these split timeline narratives there’s often a lack of character or strong storyline in the present day, leaving the reader more intrigued with the past and creating an imbalance to the story. The reader can find themselves racing through the present bits to get to the ‘real’ story. The author doesn’t fall into that trap here, Ellie is interesting in her own right and her journey feels important too. The third timeline is something of a surprise as we follow a little girl called Hattie at Blackwater House and her emerging friendship with gardener and handyman Tomas. She is interested in how he makes things grow and starts to help him planting the potato crop in the garden. There’s a connection between these two that’s immediate and I was touched by them, possibly remembering days in the garden shed with my Grandad, tying onions up and hanging them from the ceiling and chitting potatoes. Tomas isn’t always the calm and shy man he is with Hattie and if he hears a bang, particularly a gunshot, he is back at war in an instant. His solitary and quiet work is clearly important in managing his PTSD. I was immediately drawn to this character and intrigued by his possible importance to the Rathmore’s story.
There are other flashbacks too, a section from the Blitz in London is particularly tense and heartbreaking. The author describes the air raids from the Lufwaffe so clearly I felt I was there with the characters. I thought the sense of foreboding was incredible and the slow realisation of the danger the characters were in was beautifully written. She captures the terrifying sense that the help needed, the help that’s usually there, is out of reach and something terrible might happen. The damage wrought in these streets and the fortitude of the people caught up there was powerfully portrayed and really gripped my emotions. I felt the author balanced those moments of terrible tension and drama beautifully with the lightness of rural Ireland and the people Ellie meets in her old neighbourhood. This is a place where only those in the big house were able to keep their secrets and everyone knows everyone. The people are strong, community minded and often Ellie’s interactions with them have a light humour about them, while avoiding caricature. I enjoyed her growing friendship with Milo Rathmore – another returnee to the village, now the village GP and carer for his father Albert. He is from Ellie’s world and the pair can look at the place with a critical eye, but also a good humoured and fond heart. I was interested in whether Ellie’s more recent personal issues would come to light. Could she finally confide in her mother and accept someone’s comfort and care, despite that solid streak of independence? I also wondered whether her career would ever be restored and if she could return, would she want to? Mostly though I was interested in what had happened to Charlotte, this beautiful, rebellious girl with so much spirit. I couldn’t believe she would kill herself, but feared that her true end was even more heartbreaking. That extra timeline post WWII also held surprises I really didn’t expect. Despite wanting all the answers I was sorry when this novel ended and there’s no better compliment than that.
Meet the Author
The inspiration for The Midnight House appeared in the rafters of our home, a two-hundred-year-old stone building perched on the edge of the Atlantic. Hidden there was a message, scratched into wood: ‘When this comes down, pray for me. Tim O’Shea 1911’. As I held that piece of timber in my hands, dust clinging to my paint-stained clothes, I was humbled that a person’s fingerprint could, in a thousand ways, transcend time, and I wanted nothing more than to capture that feeling of discovery on the page. I have always loved dual-timeline novels, where stories from the past weave with those of the present day. I want to write books that transport you to another time and place, where secrets lie just beneath the surface if only the characters know where to look.
Before all this, I was a geologist exploring the world’s remote places. Luckily for me, writing novels provides a similar sense of wonder and discovery; but the warm office, fresh food and a shower in the evening make the conditions rather more comfortable! The wild weather of County Kerry, where I live with my husband and two red setters, gives me the perfect excuse to regularly curl up by a fire with a great novel. I treasure my reading time, and I know you do too, so thank you for taking a chance on my books.
Come over to Instagram and Twitter (@amandageard) where I share plenty of photos of the wild settings in The Midnight House. You can also find me on Facebook (@amandageardauthor).
Taken from Amanda’s Amazon Author Page.